Writer’s Curse – passion, drugs and literature

Writer’s Curse – passion, drugs and literature
by Christopher Flakus

Drugs and literature have been the two great passions of my life. For a long time they were inextricably bound. In my mind, I thought one could not exist without the other. I believed I had found a fierce sense of liberty in using drugs, a certain outlaw status that reminded me of my heroes: guys like Lenny Bruce, Charlie Parker, Hubert Selby Jr, Jerry Stahl, Hank Williams, Sid Vicious and just about every other famous druggie in the long line of famous druggies. I believed that writers who drank to excess and took drugs wrote the most interesting work. Their writing seemed dangerous, immediate, and relevant…or so I believed. In the Beat Poets I found a sense of personal adventure, a daring rejection of the status-quo which made me feel at home. I devoured the works of the beat movement, especially the writings of junky scribe, William Burroughs. Filmmaker John Waters once said of Burroughs, “Sure he romanticized drug use… Did anybody read Naked Lunch and try heroin? Probably.” Definitely, I was one of them. Doesn’t mean it isn’t a great book, or an important book…it simply means, that like all great art, it is not to be read with impunity.

 

Texas Recovery Support
Texas Recovery Support

My fascination with writers and drugs propelled me through College. I read and wrote voraciously. I drank and used drugs with this same fervor. I often spent whole nights with my coke-numbed nose buried in a book. I often read until the sun came up, my bottle and my bag of dope always by my side. Somehow, I made it through the first few years of School, just barely functioning enough to make my grades (at least most of the time). My Literature Thesis was a comparative look at Tennessee Williams’ “The Night of the Iguana” and Malcolm Lowry’s novel “Under the Volcano.” Both books revolved around tragic alcoholic protagonists. Both books were written by tragic, alcoholic authors. I knew I did not ever want my life to reach the kind of misery that Lowry had endured in writing “Under the Volcano.” Despite myself, I couldn’t help believing that his pain somehow informed him…the book itself was a descent into the depths of addiction, an almost mystical voyage into a boozy heart of darkness. I wonder if I was aware, at that time, that I had already begun the first league of that journey myself.

I started using heroin at nineteen, my freshman year of college. I was mystified by what I saw as a philosopher’s stone which inspired writers since Thomas DeQuincy. I had been a heavy drinker, pot-smoker, pill-popper, and coke sniffer…but heroin was the game-changer. The trajectory of my ever increasing use will be familiar to any addict. I was the “I just smoke it don’t shoot it,” guy. Until of course the day came then I was the, “I only shoot it once in a while, special occasions” guy, until I ended up the “I am hopelessly addicted to junk” guy. My apartment quickly dissolved into the kind of junky squat I had read about, though now that it was real, the shiny veneer drug-use once held for me was quickly peeled off. As it turned out, junkies were not just social iconoclasts and pillars of hip…they were greedy, sick, disloyal characters who turned on each other over virtually anything. I was certainly not above scheming my dope for the day through any number of shady doings. Lying became part of my life, just something I did. It was second nature, as natural as breathing. I lied to myself, to my family, to the few straight friends I had left who were watching my quick descent. Sometimes I lied, just for the sake of the lie.

For the most part, I was a middle-man, always orchestrating buys and hanging around for hours in deserted parking lots waiting for my man. I cringe to think of how much time I rendered utterly useless, smoking cigarettes in my car and compulsively checking my phone every couple minutes to see if he had called or texted. As the Velvet Underground song had clearly warned me, “He’s never early, he’s always late…the first thing that you learn is that you always gotta wait.”

Scoring for a group of junkies was advantageous in that I usually had a chance to pocket either a little extra cash or an extra pinch of dope for myself. It didn’t feel dishonest. It was my finder’s fee.
I went on like this, for years. I didn’t finish school. I worked a string of dead end jobs, almost all of which eventually fired me. I couldn’t manage to show up on time, and when I did show up I was often so high I could barely keep my eyes open.

Things got progressively worse. I lost friends, my girlfriend, a good job, and ultimately my own sanity. The bottom really came flying up on me once I began using intravenous methamphetamine. I was trying to stay off heroin, but unwilling to give up the quest for an immaculate high…my search for alternatives to heroin brought me crashing down. I smoked crack, synthetic marijuana, snorted bath-salts…anything that I could get my hands on. I had an open-door policy when it came to drugs, I simply did not discriminate. If it changed the way I felt, I took it. Within a few months of shooting meth, I was locked in a mental health hospital after a psychotic episode. I had not slept in days, and was hallucinating shadowy figures breaking into my house. I was so

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convinced my life was in danger that I leapt out of my bathroom window. I lived on the second story. I plummeted down fifteen feet, crashing into a thorny bush. I spent a month with the loonies in a schizophrenic ward of Houston’s Harris County Psychiatric Center. As soon as they discharged me I was back on the streets and my drug use only escalated. Pretty soon, I was on heroin again, still shooting meth, and drinking from the time I woke up (assuming I had even been to sleep) until I collapsed onto my pillow more dead than alive. I had always been a beer drinker, generally speaking, but now I was onto hard liquor as well and lots of it. I was prescribed a narcotic triumvirate of vyvanse, suboxone, and alprazolam at this time. I swallowed the speed (vyvanse) to boost my meth high, and smoothed it out with downers (alprazolam) and heroin. It didn’t matter to me if the drugs were purchased on a street corner or in a pharmacy. I still see no distinction between street drugs and pharmaceuticals. Dope is dope…the end result was always addiction.

I had been using suboxone as a maintenance program for three years. During that time I would sporadically come off the suboxone and get back on heroin. I would sell my strips to other junkies, turn around, and spend the money on dope for myself. At this point, the writing had been completely replaced by drugs. It felt like I had not read a book in years, and if I had, I either forgot entirely or retained very little of what I had read. Everything in my world existed in the shadow of my junk habit.

I had begun using heroin seduced by the myth that it lead to creative wonders. I began shooting speed, inspired by Kerouac’s Benzedrine-fueled marathon writings and the spontaneous prose of “On the Road.” I foolishly thought that on the right drugs, I would unlock secrets to internal poetry which would have otherwise have been out of my reach. Of course, that didn’t happen. The little I did write was tired and lifeless…more whimper than words.

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I am sure I would have died. The way I was using, there didn’t seem to be any other outcome. I had given up hope of ever getting better until another, more violent and unpredictable bout of drug psychosis landed me in jail. My detox was agony. I shivered out the poison on a steel cot with nothing to keep me warm but a thin wool blanket. It was winter, and the air from outside seeped into our 24 man tank through vents along the walls. During the summer, not enough air got in through these same vents and the heat was stifling. During winter, there was no keeping the cold out. Maybe it was designed that way to make it an even more hellish place for us.

My withdrawals seemed to last that entire first month I spent in jail. The first couple weeks I spent in my bunk, just holding on to anything I could. A fond memory, a warm thought, a joke…anything I could cling to in my mind that took me away from where I was and what I was feeling. The third week I started stretching my legs, walking around and getting to know the other inmates I was locked up with. Ultimately, it was these men I credit with my decision to get clean. I had suffered dope sickness dozens of time before, only to slip up and use again. Although this cold-turkey jailhouse detox was by far the most miserable kick I had ever experienced, I knew I wouldn’t stay clean because of it. The other inmates, their stories, and their encouragement…these things provided the springboard I needed, not only to get clean, but to start writing again.

Texas Recovery Support
Texas Recovery Support

The man I call my first sponsor was an inmate named Jonathan, a speed-freak from Dallas. He had been picked up in the Midwest and driven cross-country in a paddy-wagon back to Texas to serve out his sentence. The charges were old, and he had already gone into recovery by the time he was stopped by the police. Jonathan had a certain sense of serenity. He remained calm in his situation. We were all losing our minds with uncertainty, but Jonathan managed to take it all in stride. He conducted his own informal NA meeting in the tank, and I began attending. He would brew a warm coffee for me, and we would spend an hour or two discussing my addiction and potential recovery. The men I met in jail had suffered a hundred times what I had. Many of them were in and out of prison, unable to shake the disease even after years of incarceration. I saw in them the dreadful future that awaited me if I continued to drink and use drugs.

I began reading in jail. A few good friends still wrote letters to me, and bought books online to send to me. I read the Russians, authors I had always wanted to read in depth but was only superficially familiar with. I read Gogol, Tolstoy, Bulgakov, Solzinitsyn, and Dostoyevsky. I also caught up on my Borges, and another wonderful Argentinian author, Julio Cortazar. Their words became my only means of escaping confinement. Dostoyevsky had spent time in a Siberian Prison, and Solzinitsyn’s novel “A Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich” described his life in one of Stalin’s Gulags. I read these stories, not as lofty literature, but as the voices of fellow prisoners whose strength served as an inspiration to get through each long, hard day inside. As long as I was reading, writing, and exercising…keeping busy, staying out of trouble, I felt I was getting somewhere. Would it sound funny to say, I even began to enjoy life again? Even in a place like a county jail in Texas, I was able to laugh and relate to the people around me. There were many dark days as well. There was violence, ugliness, there was abuse of power and degradation…it was still jail after all, but for the first time in years I felt like some kind of man inside.

I was released from jail under the condition that I go directly to rehab. That sounded fine to me. It had been nearly four months locked up, three of which I had spent sober (There was a little jailhouse hooch going around that first month) making it the longest uninterrupted period of sobriety in my adult life. I knew rehab was the best decision, and I arrived at Houston’s PaRC (Prevention and Recovery Center) with a newfound sense of freedom and determination. I made friends quickly. At first, the transition from jail to rehab was a little overwhelming…there was a cafeteria with great food, and snacks, and I didn’t get woken up by guards in gloves shaking down my bunk. Instead I was greeted with warm smiles, could eat as much as I liked, and was welcome to spend time in a “Serenity Garden” where patients congregated to smoke cigarettes and share stories. I found it laughable when I overheard a couple girls over by the salad bar (yes, there was a salad bar!) describing the food as “inedible” and the counselors as “fascists.” Honey, I thought to myself, you wouldn’t have lasted a day where I just come from…

As a pretty staunch Atheist, I was concerned that the 12 Steps wouldn’t work for me. Luckily, I found a very open and understanding environment in rehab, and I was encouraged to take what I could from the program and leave the rest. I do not use a “higher power” in my recovery, but volunteer work (Service Work, as it is called in AA) and helping others is not only a wonderful way to give back to the community, it is also a healing experience which I have found enforces my own sobriety. I forged new and lasting friendships in rehab. So many of the stories I heard so closely mirrored my own. I felt accepted…if anyone had earned their seat, I had. I discovered that for all my fascination with drug literature there is in fact, only two universal stories of addiction: “I used, I got hooked, and I got clean…or I used, I got hooked, and then I died.” Even if the drugs don’t kill you outright…a life spent perpetually addicted is no life at all. And let’s face it, we junkies aren’t exactly known for our longevity.

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There are three quotes by great artists who got clean, that have helped carry me through these first months in recovery. The first is by the great Hubert Selby Jr. (Who struggled with heroin addiction and health complications for most of his life, and managed to get clean and even refused Morphine on his death bed) who said, “Once you quit the drugs and booze, that’s when you find out how dark you really are.” This was important to realize, as a writer. I still had a fear that without the drugs, I would lose some of my eccentricity, or edginess. Tom Waits said it best, when describing his own experience with early sobriety: “One is never completely certain when you drink and do drugs whether the spirits that are moving through you are the spirits from the bottle or your own. And, at a certain point, you become afraid of the answer. That’s one of the biggest things that keeps people from getting sober, they’re afraid to find out that it was the liquor talking all along.” The truth is, my addiction punched a great big hole in my creativity. For years I hardly managed to write or perform at all…I used to sing in a punk rock band, I did spoken word, and even appeared on television for Austin’s Poetry Month. That reading of my poetry on TV was a memory I used to cherish, though it brought me great sadness as well during my many years spent isolated and using. I felt I had blown it. It hurt to remember my success, as much as it hurt to realize I had failed.

I have found, the only real way you lose, is if you die. If you are struggling with addiction, keep struggling…there is a nobility in the fight, even the days it kicks your ass. Especially on those days. Which brings me to my final quote, from the author of ‘Permanent Midnight,’ Jerry Stahl:

“This was the history of the world. Recovery and collapse, despair and relief. The dialectic of clean and dirty. Every time is worse than the time before. The bad things come, days and nights and days and nights get so unbelievably fucked up, unbelievably fast, but in the end– if there is an end– everybody’s best self just slogs forward, one stagger, one fall, one day, one ‘what the fuck just happened?’ moment of oblivion and soul-broken joy at a time. All we have to do is not die.”

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For the first time in almost fifteen years, I can enjoy life without a joint, a drink, a pill, or a needle in my arm. It has been a decade since I first smoked heroin as a 19 year old freshman poet…here I am now, ex-jailbird writer living in a sober house with eight other addicts. I have been out of jail and in recovery four months…making it nearly eight months since my last taste of dope. I have a relationship with my father and mother. Many of my truly good friends have re-entered my life and seem proud of me. I’m still fighting and the fight isn’t easy…most days it is damn hard. In the end, it is worth everything to me. I finally found my own story, one worth telling, and worth living.

 

Christopher Flakus / Writer’s Curse – passion, drugs and literature

 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder and More

Generalized Anxiety Disorder and More

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health problems, along with depression. Around 10 to 16% of the world population will experience an anxiety disorder at some point of their lives.

What are anxiety disorders? These are disorders that have, as the name would indicate, anxiety as a central feature. These disorders are characterized by the presence of unreasonable fear and nervousness that affect the person’s daily life and limit their functioning. While everyone experiences anxiety in response to stressful events or problems, people with disorders often can not stop feeling anxious or feel high levels of worry in response to inconsequential events or the possibility of a problematic situation. Anxiety can affect an individual’s physical health, make them unable to relax and limit the choices they make in their everyday existence.

Abnormal anxiety, in general, is characterized by being disproportionate to the situation that caused it. It is accompanied by physical symptoms, like sweating or blushing, and can lead to headaches and stomachaches. This type of anxiety is accompanied by persistent negative thoughts and by an inability to stop worrying. The different anxiety disorders all have their determining characteristics. Let’s consider what these are.

Firstly, there is Generalized Anxiety Disorder. GAD’s main characteristic is the presence of a constant state of anxiety that occurs in response to new situations or to thoughts about the past or the present. The person experiences anxiety even without provocation. Due to this constant worry, the person avoids new things and situations, has difficulty going on about their work and study and might have problems doing things for themselves. Even if there is no reason to worry, the person might still experience a high level of tension, contributing to health problems and stress-related issues.

The individual with GAD tends to view the world and the problems they face in an unrealistic manner. They tend to expect the worst case scenario and to anticipate catastrophes that may occur for any reason or no reason at all. They might feel tense and irritable all the time or most of the time. This can impair their performance and lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. For instance, if a person anticipates they will fail in a job interview, they act very nervously and don’t get the job, confirming their fears.

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The next anxiety disorder is Social Anxiety Disorder. Social Anxiety Disorder is characterized by anxiety related to specific social situations and interactions. The person might be unrealistically afraid of eating in public, speaking in public, asking for directions or information and other specific situations. The person might also be extremely self-conscious and constantly afraid of being embarrassed or judged by other people. This fear that can start weeks or days before an actual social event can be so severe that the person prefers to avoid social interactions altogether. The person experiences an abnormal distress in normal social situations, which can leave them isolated and feeling lonely due to the difficulties they face when they attempt to connect with others.

Another anxiety disorder is Panic Disorder. Panic Disorder is characterized by panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that is accompanied by different psychological and physical symptoms. The person’s heart rate increases, they feel shortness of breath, they start sweating, experience hot or cold flashes, dizziness and choking. The person feels as if they were going to die or as if they were losing control. These episodes can appear in specific situations or unexpectedly, however, they frequently begin to appear more and more frequently. The person might start to avoid situations in which they have experienced panic attacks before and may even stop going outside, fearing that they will have a panic attack when they are alone or surrounded with strangers. Many individuals experience a panic attack once or twice in their lives, but for others the possibility of attacks becomes a real, limiting problem.

Specific phobias are also classified as anxiety disorders. Specific phobias are irrational and intense fears of objects or situations. When the person encounters the situation or object, they begin to experience the symptoms of a panic attack. They often also start feeling fear before encountering the situation or at the idea of encountering it. Many people with specific phobias have to restrict their activities so as to avoid running into the thing that they fear.

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Common phobias include animal phobias, such as fear of dogs, snakes or mice. There are also situational phobias, for example, phobias of flying or of being in a small, closed space. People might fear elements of the natural environment, such as storms or water, blood-injection-injury phobias in which the person is irrationally afraid of being injured, having an injection, seeing blood or undergoing a medical procedure. There are many other phobias, such as a fear of clowns. Some phobias are very common, like fear of heights, while others can be highly specific and unusual, such as a fear of buttons.

A type of phobia that is classified as a separate anxiety disorder is agoraphobia. It can be closely tied to panic disorder. Fears involved in agoraphobia are related to the fear of being in a situation in which a person might have a panic attack or might not escape easily. The link to the panic disorder is a common feature, but it does not appear in all cases. Individuals with agoraphobia commonly fear using public transportation, including planes or trains, being in open public spaces, like a parking lot, being in enclosed public spaces, like cinemas, being in a crowd or in a line, and being outside alone. In the most severe cases, people with agoraphobia will refuse to leave their homes or will be unable to move outside on their own.

Anxiety disorders are common mental health disorders and can severely limit a person’s life. Their distinguishing feature is the presence of irrational and intense fear or anxiety that the person may not be able to escape. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, it may be time to get some professional help.

 

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Live Better Live Now / Generalized Anxiety Disorder and More / Houston

Grief and Addiction – Interview with Ben Carrettin

Grief and Addiction

Below is an excerpt from a recent interview with Ben Carrettin, MA, NCC, LPC on AddictionBlog.org

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“There are two prominent factors in early addiction recovery: one is based on the “old” brain or limbic system; the other is based on the “new” brain or prefrontal cortex.

During early recovery, the “old” brain drives our reactions and experience towards a rawness or hyper vigilance of our emotions, essentially magnifying what we experience. We weep at a touching commercial, rage at a cashier who spills our change and hold a grudge all day against the co-worker who failed to make a new pot of coffee. Normal feelings with an abnormal intensity or reaction. This increased rawness of emotional experience can make grief seem nearly insurmountable.

We also experience at times, a painful clarity which I often call “raising the veil”. This is when our new brain, which analyzes, quantifies, judges and defines – stands in the face of and takes account of the losses we’ve experienced. Shame, guilt, regret and more are stepping stones in the path of recovery from a plight or disease; grief and addiction included.

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Most importantly, all addicts in recovery have to deal with the many exits or “little deaths” of the physical, emotional and even spiritual losses that have occurred and that may or may not be casualties of our active addiction.”

Go here to read the FULL INTERVIEW

 

 

 

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Live Better Live Now / Houston / Grief and Addiction

Adult Children of Alcoholics

Adult Children of Alcoholics

The struggles of ACA – adult children of alcoholics

Alcoholism can have a serious effect on the whole family, not just on the person with the addiction. While the children who grow up in a household with an alcoholic parent can feel seriously affected by it, it’s important to note that those effects can last well into adulthood. Let’s consider the different issues that many adult children of alcoholics face and have to deal with on a daily basis.

Some children of alcoholics have a higher risk of developing a substance abuse problem, repeating the pattern they learned in their family. However, this is not true of all of them, as many choose to fully stop drinking alcohol and others consume in moderation.

Texas Recovery Support
Texas Recovery Support

There are specific personality traits that often appear in children of alcoholics. Many have a high need for control and find it hard to let go of a situation. They become anxious if they can’t control what is happening to other people, the situation or themselves, leading to a high degree of anxiety. They may be excessively restrained in their emotions and their behavior, fearing the loss of control.

Fear of emotions is another common feature, as children of alcoholics may be discouraged from expressing strong emotions and from letting others know that they are sad or angry. Many also have difficulties dealing with conflict and have a heightened sensitivity to others being angry, leading to them bottling up their feelings and ideas about a situation.

Many children of alcoholics have had a significant burden of responsibility since their childhood. They had to be more controlled, mature and responsible, sometimes taking the role of parent to their own parents. This can carry on into adulthood with a high sensitivity to what others want and need with a neglect of their own needs. They may be perfectionists and seek acceptance even if it comes at a high cost. They may see themselves as being responsible for the welfare of others, so that they have a hard time relaxing or enjoying themselves.

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Adult children of alcoholics have a higher risk of developing a physical or a mental illness. They are commonly depressed or have an anxiety disorder, due to their childhood experiences. They are also more likely to neglect their own health and to adopt harmful behaviors, such as smoking, not exercising or being workaholics.

Adult children of alcoholics may have issues building healthy relationships with partners. They may be excessively seeking acceptance and be willing to please and submit to their partner’s wishes. They may have difficulties with trust, leading to problems with intimacy and with close bonding. As adults, they may adopt the mentality of being a victim, staying involved in unhealthy relationships and repeating unhealthy patterns.

A common role for adult children of alcoholics to take is that of rescuer. They tend to seek people with problems and enter relationships with those people, seeking to “fix” them and neglecting their own needs and their own wishes in order to help the other person, which often ends in failure.

Another problem is approval seeking. Adult children of alcoholics tend to be very afraid of being judged harshly and tend to do what is in their power to be approved by others, even if it involves sacrificing their own identity. They also tend to be afraid of authority figures, which can lead to them being overly compliant with what these authority figures want of them, going to extremes to avoid any sort of conflict in that situation.

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Another possibility is the development of a compulsive personality and the attraction to compulsive personalities. Adult children of alcoholics, if they don’t become alcoholics, may find other addictions or seek out individuals who are addicted. These addictions can be to substances or to work, which still ends up consuming the person’s life and preventing them from enjoying it.

None of the above concerns are a guaranteed outcome. However, many of these struggles are common with adult children of alcoholics – but even so, they are not set in stone. ACA’s who are having trouble can learn to engage themselves and others in a more healthy way. There is a support group called ACA, other types of support groups and organizations and of course, a counselor who specializes in working with addiction and families can be a great resource as well. There is help available. If you or someone you know is suffering – reach out for help. Remember, “survival is science, living is art” – you don’t have to just exist. Life is and can be beautiful again.

Live Better Live Now / Houston / Adult Children of Alcoholics

 

Positive Psychology and Business

Positive Psychology and Business

Positive psychology is a growing branch of psychology that is focused on studying happiness, human potential, resilience and other positive aspects of an individual’s life. Positive psychology is very focused on studying how a person can be happier, more productive, more virtuous and better develop their potential rather than just focused on how to solve problems or treat disorders. The study of happiness and other positive aspects has been very scientific, with many studies to back up the claims that positive psychology makes and with many strategies that make it possible to apply the theoretical findings into real life. While this is a branch of psychology with many applications for an individual’s personal life, it has also been applied in business and organizations. Let’s consider how can positive psychology help business.

First of all, positive psychology studies resilience. Resilience can be defined as the ability of an individual or of an organization to get through a negative event or a crisis and to move forward with lessons that have been learned from this situation. It’s clear how such a concept can be beneficial for a company, as most organizations face problems at one point or another.

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Positive psychology is focused on the different factors that can boost individual and organizational resilience. For instance, optimism plays a big role. Optimistic people have a higher ability to bear negative events, because they believe that things will change in the future and that the situation will improve.

Positive psychology is focused on both the individual and the organizational level. On an individual level, it focuses on the traits that more productive and less stressed employees have in order to find what sort of people can thrive in an organizational environment or what sort of people are better at certain jobs and why. On the organizational level, it is focused on seeing the strategies that an organization can implement in order to not only reduce stress, but also to improve performance and help their employees achieve their full potential.

The focus in positive psychology is on the strengths of the person or of the organization. For instance, an organization might take pride in being very innovative and modern. In the event of the crisis, positive psychology would suggest to capitalize on these strengths and to use them in order to move past the critical situation.

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The same applies for individual employees. In an organization that uses positive psychology, the management needs to be aware of the strengths of their employees and focus on developing them. Weaknesses and such can be worked with by reinforcing the strengths, but the focus remains on the positive aspects of the person and their performance.

A positive organization is strongly focused on values. Values and the cultivation of these values are an important aspect of the efforts the organization makes to improve and help other people, in turn helping themselves. Many of the findings of positive psychology suggest that things like kindness, gratitude and others can not only make others happier, but can also help the person who practices them be more satisfied with their lives, have a better physical and psychological health.

Positive psychology suggests that it is important to help employees to be happier and more satisfied with their position. Studies suggest that satisfied employees work better, are more loyal to the company and have less absences.

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Stress management plays a big role in increasing satisfaction, but positive psychology would suggest that this is not enough. It is important to have other aspects which are focused on developing the employees’ potential and making the company a good place to work.

The first step for this is to build better ties between employees and management. This can be done by simple strategies, such as being generous with honest praise and acknowledging the positive aspects of the work employees do. A company that offers rewards that can be adapted to the employee and that take into account their needs and wishes is also more likely to gain the loyalty of their workers.

Another important aspect is allowing individuality and initiative. Individuality can be expressed through the ways employees decorate their workspace or through the choices they make in relation to rewards. Being able to express one’s individuality can make the person feel more closely to the company and to feel more comfortable in the place. A person can feel as if their workplace is truly theirs.

As for initiative, the ability to have not only responsibility, but also initiative and freedom of choice that occurs within specific limits can boost an employee’s satisfaction. A workplace that allows no choices can be very stressful and frustrating for the individual.

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An important concept related to productivity and creativity is flow. A state of flow is a state in which the person can be fully engrossed in what they are doing, and it is in this state that the individual is able to produce fine results and effective solutions.

An organization can encourage the state of flow in people, for instance, by offering tasks with the right level of challenge and organizing the working day to minimize distractions from the work process itself, such as meetings. It’s important to have a comfortable environment, for instance, without distracting noises, and with the chance for individuals to have their own space.

Positive organizational psychology is still a developing field. However, there are many promising results at this moment that suggest that implementing the principles of positive psychology in the workplace can have effective results. While many other psychological approaches focus on minimizing the damage, this one also offers a way to boost the employee’s satisfaction, loyalty, creativity and other strengths in order to fully develop their potential.

Live Better Live Now / ESI / Positive Psychology and Business

Being Herd – A Healing Equine Experience

Being Herd (a healing equine experience)

We all have moments when it seems we just aren’t being heard in our relationships. Whether it is with a child, partner, or co-worker, sometimes we find ourselves being ignored or believing we have to yell to be heard. We just feel stuck and the proverbial horse is “digging in his heels”. Many times, however, we are the one who is stuck (not the horse).

Whether you have worked with a horse partner never, once, or several times, the Red Dun Ranch herd is always good for some honest feedback about ways we effectively, and ineffectively, communicate and approach relationships. One of our “horse lessons”, Being Herd, is a unique 2-hour experience where participants get a chance to challenge and grow their communication and leadership skills by partnering with a horse.

Being Herd is a “grounded” equine experience, no horse knowledge required. Open to only 6 participants, 18yrs or older. Cost is $100. Click on “Schedule Now” to register or to see other classes offered at Red Dun Ranch.

Feel free to contact Beverly, 713-540-1528, for more information.

Happy Trails!

Bev and Ange

The Being Herd Team

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Being Herd – A Healing Equine Experience / equine therapy

(Posted with permission by live better live now)

Defense Mechanisms

Defense Mechanisms

The concept of defense mechanisms was introduced originally by Freud and were a part of the psychoanalytic theory. The definition of defense mechanisms concerned the idea that these were the conscious and unconscious tools the person used to protect their mind from anxiety, fear, guilt and other negative experiences. Since then, the concept of defense mechanisms has been widely adopted in other psychological theories. In particular, defense mechanisms have been used in the study of addiction, outlining the different mechanisms that addicts use to avoid accepting their problem, seeking treatment for the disease or taking active responsibility for change. Let’s examine these mechanisms.

Denial

This is a simple enough mechanism and it concerns the lack of awareness that a problem exists. The person will simply say that it’s all fine and that there is nothing to worry about. The person is usually aware on some level that there is a problem, but this is intolerable for them, so they deny it. They can deny it to themselves or to others. The difference between denying and lying, as seen next is that the person who is in denial is not aware of the problem, while lying involves consciously saying falsehoods. Denial is often the first reaction to the problem, but it can be hard to overcome, as it doesn’t allow for the possibility of accepting the situation and often represents a strong barrier.

Lying

Lying involves distorting the truth, omitting details or changing the facts. For instance, a person might lie about how much alcohol they consume, how often they use it or how they feel about the situation. Lying can appear as a way of protecting the self, but also of maintaining the situation’s status quo rather than changing anything. Lying might persist until the other person has caught on and confronts the individual or even beyond that. Usually, with lying there is more awareness of the issue, but still there is the unwillingness to accept it as an issue, while the main goal is to keep the others off of the addict’s back.

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Manipulation

Here, the person will try to make the other individual feel guilty or confused about the situation so that the person with the addiction is not bothered. A person might mock the accusation, say that it’s ridiculous or complain about what the other person does. For instance, an alcoholic might respond to an accusation about his drinking problem with “You’re accusing me of what? That’s just silly! Though maybe I could cut down on drinking if you were more supportive”. The person might blame the other individual for their problem and they try to make the person feel bad for even suggesting it. They might try to elicit sympathy by mentioning the hard circumstances of their life as well.

Accusing

Here, the person might accept that something is wrong, but they will put on the blame on other people or situations. They might say that their partner is responsible for their decision or accuse the partner of something else in turn. An alcoholic might say that he drinks, but then blame his wife for being too cold or watching too much TV or having other flaws. They might use gaslighting – saying that what’s happening is not really happening, rather that the other person doesn’t know how to have fun, that they are too sensitive, too “prudish” or other things used to accuse their partner.

Threatening

This will usually involve demanding that the other person drop the subject or else… The threat can be of leaving the person, of drinking worse or even of hurting the other individual. Threats can escalate to violence, emotional, psychological or financial abuse. The person might even threaten to kill themselves in order to get the other to comply with what they want.

Judging

Judging involves shifting focus to the actions of the other person and asking them to do something differently. It places the responsibility for the addict’s behavior on the other individual. For example, a person might say that their wife is too controlling and doesn’t know how to relax, so if she were more easy-going, the husband wouldn’t have to drink. The person might label the concern of the other partner as a desire for control or insecurity, putting a label on it to make it seem like their partner is the one on the wrong.

Projection

First described in psychoanalysis, projection is a mechanism in which the person ignores their own flaws in themselves, places them on the other individual and then criticizes or judges them. For instance, a person might say that their partner is the one who is weak-willed and dependent. To make it more clear, a cheating partner might suspect their spouse of cheating and get angry at the idea. In addictions, the person might place all the blame and all the problems on their partner.

Blaming

Blaming is directly placing the responsibility on the other person, without making it subtle or indirect. The person will admit to drinking, but say it’s the fault of their wife, who doesn’t get them, of their friends, who make them go along with it, of the economy, that doesn’t allow them to get a job and so on. The person fully denies being responsible for their own actions and presents the situation as the fault of someone or something else.

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Humor

Humor involves making light of the situation and deflecting accusations through jokes and sarcasm. A drug user might say: “Sure, I’m a crackhead. Can’t get through the day without a dose.” Other addicts can talk about similar things and make it seem as though others are exaggerating or that the accusations are ridiculous. The person might be sarcastic about their tendencies to use substances or kid around the situation, making light of the concern of their family to make it seem as if they are paranoid.

Intellectualizing

This involves the use of logic and arguments grounded in theory to justify the problem. A person might say that drinking alcohol is good for their health or that using substances is the best way to have spiritual experiences and broaden their horizons. Intellectualizing often involves turning to “authority”, such as studies or psychologists or important church members to twist their words or take them out of context in order to justify the situation. A person might have a whole theory worked out to justify their addiction or to use faulty logic to support it.

Rationalizing

Although similar to intellectualizing, rationalizing is more focused on finding mundane reasons. A person might say that they can’t be alcoholics because they don’t get drunk every day or because they have never gotten in trouble at work or because they make money, for instance. Rationalizing might involve saying that alcohol is just their way to wind down and other similar arguments that are focused on explaining away the situation. The classic “If I wanted to quit, I would quit” can be a rationalization, as the person uses the argument to calm themselves and others, not seeing that it’s a faulty argument.

Silence

Silence involves simply withdrawing from others and not saying anything. The person might refuse to respond to any accusations or pleas and act indifferently. This mechanism involves simply ignoring the situation and either hoping that others will tire of it eventually or showing that the person finds the whole matter beneath them. Indifference can be very frustrating and hard to overcome, as the person refuses to engage in discussions or to change their behavior, rather, they usually continue as they were without responding to other people.

Compliance

Outwardly this may appear as though the person is complying so that the others will leave the matter to rest. The person might say they will stop using substances and seek treatment, agreeing with the accusations, but in reality they will usually not do any of these things or do the bare minimum, just for show. If a person uses this mechanism, they tend to lack the motivation for real change and still don’t see the real problem. Rather, they think that the problem is the insistence others have on a change and such, so to solve this problem they make false promises or outwardly seem to go along with the treatment to get back to the way things were as soon as they can.

Minimizing

Minimizing is making the problem less. The person might say that they drink, but they don’t drink that much, that other people drink they more, that they are functional and so who cares and other similar matters. The idea is to make the problem look like less or to make it seem small by comparison, for example, by saying that, sure, they use drugs, but it’s not like they do it at work and, besides they only use like once a month, so it’s not a problem. The addict might also minimize the problem for themselves, hoping to believe that it’s under control and, even if it’s not, it’s just a small, unimportant matter, so it doesn’t mean anything either way.

Cockiness

Cockiness is a general attitude. The person will percieve themselves as being invincible, better than others, stronger and smarter and, thus, able to handle the situation. They might challenge themselves to drink more, for instance, believing that they can give up at any minute and that they are not like those other folks who get addicted. This is a narcissistic belief and an illusion the person might cling to to feel safe and untouchable. The idea that they can quit any time can also be associated with a cocky attitude.

Justifying

Justifying is finding reasons for the problem. It can overlap with blaming and with rationalizing, for instance. Justifying is saying that anyone in their position would use substances or saying that they need it or that it is medical.

Explaining

The next mechanism is explaining. It involves weaving a story concerning a particular situation to show that their behavior was necessary or expected. For example, an alcoholic might say that they knew they shouldn’t have been drinking, but that all their friends were there and it would have been offensive to reject a drink and that it was tradition and so on. An explanation involves finding a way in which the person’s behavior seemed possible and that it was related to the circumstances, not associated with any larger problem, for instance.

Analyzing

This one usually involves a monologue that involves justifications, explanations and rationalizations for why the person is acting in a specific way. The person might say that they had always suffered from unfulfilled affective needs and that they drink in order to cover them, though they know it’s not right. An analysis usually means that the person is not connecting emotionally to the situation and that they haven’t fully accepted the reality of the situation.

Defiance

Defiance involves actively resisting treatment and any attempts to change or talk. The person might state that it’s their life and that they don’t agree with the treatment and they won’t comply with it. They might sabotage the treatment in some way or show that they are displeased with the whole situation.

Withdrawal

ereThis mechanism involves simply leaving the situation. The person might leave the room, the house or even the treatment center, rejecting the situation. It often occurs together with silence.

Shouting

Finally, there is the self-explanatory shouting. The person might yell and insult others to intimidate and to be left alone.

One more thing…

Defense mechanisms are a part of who we are. They are built in to help us protect ourselves in physical and emotional situations where we perceive a threat of some sort. They are not a symptom or sign of being “broken” or a problem in and of themselves. However, they can get out of hand, be a strong indicator of something we need to face and have consequences when we let them lead us through our lives. A seasoned and experienced counselor can help you address challenges in your life where defense mechanisms may be serving more as a harmful hindrance than a help.

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Defense Mechanisms / Live Better Live Now / Houston

 

My Emotional Brain – Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin

My Emotional Brain – Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin

Dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin are three very important biochemical power-houses in the brain called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that appear in our nervous system and that send signals to get us to act and feel in certain ways. The study of neurotransmitters and their link to different pathologies is relatively recent, however, there is already a large body of work. Let’s take a look at each of these chemicals, see what they are and which roles can they play in different mental health issues, like depression, anxiety and addiction.

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Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is heavily involved in the reward circuit of the brain, that is, the circuit associated with pleasure and motivation. When dopamine is released into the brain, we experience pleasure. Dopamine is released in a variety of situations, from when we exercise to when we read a good book. This neurotransmitter is also involved in some aspects of movement and of release of different hormones in the body.

Dopamine is not the neurotransmitter most linked to depression, however, there is evidence to suggest that it plays a role. Dopamine has to do with motivated behavior, directed at a specific goal, and is also related to pleasure.

Common features of depression are a lack of pleasure derived from normally pleasing activities and a significant reduction of goal-oriented and motivated behavior. Speaking generally, people with depression are less interested in doing things, engage in less behaviors and are not strongly motivated to do anything. These features of depression have been linked to dopamine.

There is little, solid information on the relationship between dopamine and anxiety. The study of this link is on-going. However, there is some impressive data that suggests social anxiety in particular might be related to problems with dopamine receptors.

Dopamine plays a very significant role in addiction. It’s the main neurotransmitter linked to this pathology. Many of the addictive substances are addictive because they hijack the reward circuit. Some, such as cocaine, block the reabsorption of dopamine, so what happens is that dopamine gets released and then it builds up, giving the person a feeling of euphoria. However, over time, the reward circuit stops working properly as it gets accustomed to higher-than-normal amounts of dopamine, which leads to tolerance and to addiction.

DewyDandelion

Serotonin

Serotonin is another important neurotransmitter. It is related to mood, appetite and sleep. It also is related to other aspects, such as cognitive functions, like memory and learning.

This neurotransmitter is most closely associated with depression. If we consider the features of depression – a sad mood, lack of appetite, insomnia, difficulties to focus, it’s possible to see that these features are closely associated with serotonin’s functions in the body.

Most antidepressants that are used nowadays are SSRIs – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. These antidepressants function by inhibiting the reabsorption of serotonin, so that the levels of serotonin become higher. Their function is to improve a person’s mood. These antidepressants are mostly effective and widely used.

A serotonin deficiency is also associated with anxiety. Low levels of serotonin could be linked to genetics, to lifestyle or even be linked to anxiety, which creates a vicious circle. Serotonin affectes the person’s mood and is also related to digestion issues, which are common in anxiety disorders. SSRIs are still today, often used to treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Serotonin is also linked to addiciton in a similar way to dopamine. Many drugs affect serotonin’s levels, so that the person begins to feel restless and anxious, with obsessive ideas and cravings, so the individual turns to the drugs in order to feel calm again. The balance of serotonin is affected and changed, affecting the individual.

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Oxytocin

Oxytocin is also an important neurotransmitter. It is mostly connected to intimacy, reproduction, childbirth and social bonding. It has physiological effects, helping women give birth and lactate, and emotional effects, facilitaing interpersonal attachements that are lasting and important.

Oxytocin is not as well-studied in relation to depression and other pathologies. Lower levels of oxytocin have been associated with post-partum depression, for instance, suggesting that there is an association between the two, at least under those specific circumstances. There has also been research showing that oxytocin can improve a person’s depressive state, being linked to attachement and pleasant social relationships. However, there is not much data at the moment.

Oxytocin has also been associated with social anxiety. It was found to have a positive influence on a neurological level, affecting the amygdala, the part of the brain linked to fear and stress, and changing the patterns in which the amygdala is connected to other neural areas. This was found to decrease anxiety and, in some cases, promote prosocial positive behavior.

There are not many studies linking oxytocin and addiction, however, there is some data that suggests that high levels of oxytocin might be protective factors against addiction and reduce the pleasure a person derives from drugs. Low levels of oxytocin could be linked to addiction directly and indirectly, for instance, indicating lower capacity or possibility for close interpersonal attachments, which reflect in more loneliness and search for sensations, for example. However, there is still not much substantiated data on oxytocin and addiction – but studies in this area continue and a definitive answer is likely to present in the near future.

Wrap – Up

In general, neurotransmitters play a big role in mental health and mental health disorders. There is still much to learn about the exact mechanisms involved in addictions, depression and anxiety. Even so, we know that neurotransmitters play a part in the origin of these issues, the progress path of these diseases and the success or failure of the treatments employed for them. This knowledge has allowed for the development of medications whose specific design and purpose are to alleviate the symptoms and influence the cause.

Texas Recovery Support – Houston, Texas

Texas Recovery Support provides board-certified and licensed specialists to individuals and families faced with grief, addiction, cancer and other pivotal events and crossroads in life. Learn more.

 

My Emotional Brain – Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin

 

 

When A Parent Struggles With Fear And Anxiety

When A Parent Struggles With Fear And Anxiety

What do you do when you struggle with fear and anxiety and you have to maintain the family and kids? It can be tough but there are ways to manage your fears and take care of your family at the same time. Here are some techniques a parent can use to manage his or her anxiety.

The first thing you should do is talk to a professional counselor or coach. (see our blog article on how to find the best one for you) There is no shame or weakness in this. Quite the opposite – it takes courage to do something you may not feel comfortable about but to do so because it is good for you and your loved ones. You owe it to your family and kids to get better. You owe it to yourself. Getting the help you need to battle fear and anxiety is very important and will lead you to the road of recovery. Admitting that you have a problem and getting help is the first step in getting better.

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Remember that you are not alone. There are many people who deal with fear and anxiety and they too live normal lives. There is no reason why you can’t get through this. If other parents can manage their fears, so can you. You can do it. There is hope for you.

When taking care of the family, do not try to manage everything all at once. Getting overwhelmed will only exacerbate the anxiety you already face. Get your spouse or somebody else to help do some of the work. One person cannot do everything. Period. (No offense to our super single parents but guess what? It doesn’t take two – it takes a village to raise a kid). Share your responsibilities with noble people you trust. (Co-parenting tip – learning to communicate with your spouse or partner about who does what on a certain day can really help.)

Do not let your anxieties get the best of you. A technique that can be very helpful is to have a list of positive statements that make you happy. Whenever you feel anxious and you are taking care of the kids, get your list and read those statements. We all need to hear, out loud, that we are and do good in the world. If you aren’t hearing it enough from others – you still need to hear it. May sound silly – but over a short time of practice it makes a difference.

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The next time you become overwhelmed with fear and anxiety, remember that there is hope in overcoming your anxieties and depression. With some help, you will be able to manage and move beyond your fears. You just have to be patient and compassionate with yourself. And you need to act on that compassion. Reach out and get support. It can make a world of difference for you and your family.

Live Better Live Now – Board Certified Counseling

Houston, Texas – When A Parent Struggles With Fear And Anxiety

What You Need To Know If Your Mother Had Breast Cancer

What You Need To Know If Your Mother Had Breast Cancer

If your mother had breast cancer, you have an increased chance of developing it yourself. Knowing your family history, understanding your personal risk, getting appropriate screening tests and making lifestyle choices are important steps toward good breast health, according to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

If breast cancer runs in your family, understanding your risk and how to approach your breast health is important to both your physical and emotional well-being,” says Cheryl Perkins, M.D., senior clinical advisor for the Komen Foundation.

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Family History and Increased Risk

If your mother, sister or daughter has breast cancer, your risk of developing the disease is two to three times greater than a woman without this family history. However, being at increased risk for breast cancer does not guarantee you will develop the disease. Talk to your provider to discuss your personal risk and his/her recommendations for regular screening. Regular screening usually includes mammography, clinical breast exams and breast self-exam. Additional screening may be recommended depending on your personal risk.

Gene Mutations and Genetic Testing

Only 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancer is due to heredity. Genetic testing can determine if you inherited the mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which are key in the development of some breast cancers. However, having a mutated gene does not guarantee that you will get breast cancer. If you have concerns about your family history and personal risk, talk with your doctor about whether genetic testing is right for you.

Taking Preventive Steps-Making Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Many factors can increase a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer. While some risks, such as being a woman and getting older, are out of your control, others can be managed. For example, risk factors such as consuming alcohol, lack of exercise and being overweight are all factors that you can modify.

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Helping Your Mother Through Breast Cancer

If your mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, she needs your support. From diagnosis through treatment and beyond, your mother’s co-survivor network of family and friends will be a vital part of her support system. And don’t forget counseling. There are seasoned, experienced counselors who specialize in working with cancer patients and their loved ones.

 

Live Better Live Now/What You Need To Know If Your Mother Had Breast Cancer

Looking for empowered women and men who are not letting cancer win?!! Check out the incredible folks at Pink Phuree – Houston’s Breast Cancer Survivors & Supporters Dragon Boat Team! Reach out and get involved!

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