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Archive for December, 2010

At one point during the Holocaust, the prison population grew so large that the Nazi’s had no choice but to turn some of the more trusted prisoners into jailers. They called them Capo’s. When historians began examining the Holocaust, it was baffling to learn that the most brutal jailers were, in fact, the Capo’s themselves. They sought the help of mental health professionals to understand this phenomenon.

It was explained to them that the jailers so resented internment, loss of self and never-ending stress, that they could not invoke normal human emotion and instead, wanted to destroy what they feared and hated most; being held in captivity. They channeled all their hatred back onto their fellow prisoners.

A Psychiatrist told me that story when I was telling him that the abuse that I had suffered as a child wasn’t as bad as other abuses that I was aware of. He explained to me that one, abuse is abuse! There are varying degrees but no delineation to the body and mind. And two, physical abuse “is” severely damaging. Kids learn and grow by connecting points A and B. He gave me an example. If a child wets their pants and they end up locked in their room all day with no food or water; that’s abuse. But the child is able to connect the points. A, if I soil my pants, B, I will be locked in my room. Their situation, albeit uncomfortable, has made an A/B connection and the ensuing emotional trauma may not be as impactful.

One time after a Little League game, when I went 0 for 4, my father beat me. I really didn’t know why, other than I must have done something wrong. I also concluded something must really be wrong with me. Most damaging, as the Psychiatrist would explain, is that I could not make any connection…A did not connect with a B. That hung state, according to the doc, is terribly damaging to the psyche. It’s the others person sickness (same with sexual abuse) that is in play. That’s why, according to doctors, a childs emotional development can be halted at this type of trauma point.

Coming full circle, like the rings on a tree that represent growth, our childhood experiences are hard-wired into us and they never leave. The prisoner (child) becomes the jailer (adult). I don’t know about you but I can be so critical of myself, so brutal. Other people notice and once in awhile will question my veracity. I don’t because it is something that I am often blind to.

As time marched on and I reached mid-life, I could no longer keep up the illusion of an idyllic childhood. So, I began to numb out through alcohol. And the rest, as they say, is history!

Today, nearly 4 years of sobriety have given me a clear head and a clear conscious. I have been able to dig in and do the hard work in recovery. Recovery to me is not only about the cessation. That’s the beginning, the warm-up, the entry fee for what is to come. I have done the hard work and the benefits are beginning to unfold. I love my life and I am beginning to love myself. I can hardly say that last part. Work in progress!

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“Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.” – Confucius

It doesn’t matter what post-addiction support group you choose, what rehab program you choose, what new pledge to stop drinking that you have pledged to whom, etc. If you cannot reach down deep to find the internal strength, arresting the addiction will not happen! I have learned that the same principle applies to lying, cheating, half-truths etc. You cannot lie ,cheat, steal or tell half-truths just a little bit. As you may have hood winked someone else, at the end of the day and everyday, you are accountable to you!

Here’s another quote that I like. “There is no try, only do, or do not. .” – Yoda.

My experience has been that if you leave yourself a back door, the illness of alcoholism will surely find it. I’m really going to “try” this time. I’ll only have one beer or one glass of wine. OK, only on Saturdays, holidays, full moons etc. You’re better off to keep drinking if this is what you are doing. Commit and don’t look back. The gravitational pull of you addiction will be on your heels, wanting you back..now!

Try everything if need be. If AA works for you, all the better. If not, move on. Life is too short. Try Rational Recovery, a church support group on spirituality, Allen Carr’s book, find a good therapist…etc.

I went to AA everyday for two years and I learned a lot. I would recommend checking it out. You will know, in time, whether or not AA is the right place for you. Have an open mind and pay attention.

After my two years in AA, I chose to continue working with a therapist, wholeheartedly embrace my family and friends and renew my involvement in the spiritual path that I grew up with. That said , I still use some of the more noteworthy principles that I learned from AA. They are with me every day!

Don’t be afraid to trust your instincts. Do what’s right for you. Not the person sitting next to you!

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Posted 2/22/2010 8:20 AM CST on livestrong.com Community

I am a survivor of childhood abuse. I fell into substance abuse (alcoholism) as an adult, made it into recovery and have been sober for nearly 4 years. I stared down death a couple of times during this dark period of my life. Today, I feel very fortunate that I am alive and standing on solid ground. I cannot put into words how grateful I am for the unwavering support of my family, friends and psychotherapists. I have been on a journey of recovery and self-discovery for the past four years and could not be any happier with my opportunity to live a more enriched life, going forward.

I estimate that I have put over 200 hours into reading, researching and studying science and medical papers on the subject that I would like to share in this post. I find it tragic that with all the recent discoveries in neuroscience and the associated links to addiction and substance abuse; the medical community and, peripherally, the addiction treatment community, have yet to gain any sort of deep understanding that would allow them to adapt and deploy treatment options.

There is an age-old debate whether alcoholism is a disease. I ponder the thought that any evidence of this claim has not been found conclusive. With all the research money and time spent by drug companies, employing molecular biologist to hunt for genetic markers tied to alcoholism, it seems likely that any evidence would have emerged by now. I have read that drug companies have invested in excess of a billion dollar hunting for any sign of genetic markers that show a link to alcoholism.

To me, it seems more likely that some sort of “psychological stress”, seemingly leading to a wide spectrum of mental illnesses, is more aligned on a path that is conducive for substance abuse and addiction. I have read that there is an undeniable association of childhood stress, or varying degrees of abandonment, that link those who predominantly fall victim to substance abuse and addiction. In my readings, abandonment defined is a trauma experienced in the developmental years of our youth. Examples noted were childhood abuse, broken homes, domestic violence, molestation, incest and so on.

There are many forms of childhood abandonment that I read about. Pertaining directly to me, I was physically and emotionally abused by my father. I grew up in a corporal punishment environment that many times, went beyond spanking or your garden variety head slapping or ear flicking. For as long as I can remember, tracing back through my youth, I always had my guard up. I lived in a hyper-vigilant state of always being on guard. After much work, that internal churning is now gone. Free at last, after 48 years!

I have read a great deal about the devastating impact that a constant state of arousal (hyper-vigilance) can deliver to a developing brain. I learned about the HPA-axis, also called the “negative feedback loop”. The HPA-axis defined, is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis that is part of the endocrine and autonomic systems within our body. In a nutshell, the HPA-axis gives us that “fight or flight” ability by producing the necessary amounts or more of adrenaline and cortisol hormones that will move us away from any real or perceived threat. There is evidence linking the constant state of arousal to mental illnesses that will never completely leave us. Here is an excerpt that I pulled from a study done on the neuroendocrinology of stress.

* Comprehending the mechanistic of the stress response and the increasingly serious sequelae of its deregulation is pivotal to recognize and combat any abnormalities in the stress system. To overcome pathologic hyperactivity of the stress response, it is essential to protect juveniles from trauma and abuse. The more secure the environment, the less likely an individual will experience a stress-related illness. A secondary measure is training stress-prone patients to improve their coping skills, minimizing their reactivity to future stress. In-depth understanding of the neuro-circuitry of stress has provided novel tools to manage hyperactivity of the stress system. Hundreds of original articles and many laboratories have repeatedly implicated corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) in enhancing the organism’s sensitivity to nocuous stimuli and in mobilizing almost the entire cascade of the stress response. By virtue of its broad interactions with the endocrine and autonomic systems, CRH virtually influences every cell in the body. Hyperactivity of CRH is a serious condition that is likely to underlie the pathophysiology of melancholic depression, anxiety, psychosexual disorders, diabetes mellitus, and functional gastrointestinal disorders.

Serotonin is important for adequate coping with stress. Aberrant serotonin function is implicated in the etiology of major depression and anxiety disorders. Dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis, involving raised corticotropin-releasing hormone activity, also plays a role in these stress-related illnesses.

I use to have a terrible problem with giving presentations to an audience or even just impromptu talks in front of a group. My problem and symptoms went well beyond the normal nervousness and presentation anxiety that are often present before speaking. The physical symptoms that I experienced were rapid heart beat, abnormal sweating, shortness of breadth and an overwhelming sense of confusion. My autonomic system went into overdrive. One day, after describing this scenario to a psychiatrist, he prescribed the drug Inderal to see if it made an impact toward combating my symptoms.

Inderal is a beta-blocker that temporarily shuts down the adrenaline response. The impact was profound. When I take a very small dosage (5mg) before public speaking, I no longer have any problem nor suffer any of the symptoms that I once did. My “pathologic hyperactivity of the stress response” (but of course) is under control today, thanks to the drug Inderal. I just wish I would have figured this out 20 years earlier in my sales career.

Furthermore, during a routine CT scan of my abdomen, for an unrelated matter, doctors discovered that I have an adrenal cortical adenoma (huh), (benign tumor..oh!) on my adrenal gland. I have read evidence that an adrenal adenoma can develop as a result of over stressing the HPA-axis due to the constant hyperactive and prolonged exposure to cortisol. I believe that the environment that I grew up in had something, if not everything, to do with this adenoma.

Referencing a paper prepared by The Office of Trauma Services, Maine Department of Behavioral and Developmental Service’s State House Station, gives further illustration to the harmful and lifelong impact of childhood abuse:

Childhood abuse can result in adult experience of shame, flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug use, feelings of humiliation and unworthiness, ugliness and profound terror. (Harris, 1997; Rieker&Carmen, 1986; Herman, 1992; Janoff-Bulman & Frieze, 1983; van der Kolk, 1987; Brown & Finkelhor, 1986; Rimsza, 1988)

Adults abused during childhood are more than twice as likely to have at least one lifetime psychiatric diagnosis almost three times as likely to have an affective disorder almost three times as likely to have an anxiety disorder almost 2 ½ times as likely to have phobias over ten times as likely to have a panic disorder almost four times as likely to have an antisocial personality disorder (Stein et al, 1988).

It appears conclusive that child abuse affects the neural pathways of a developing brain. The resulting effect appears to be damaging to the neuro-circuitry that can no longer efficiently carry the neurotransmitters that travel the connected network of the brain. In the neuro-circuitry, three mono-amine neurotransmitters cited as being affected were serotonin, dopamine and nor epinephrine….neurotransmitters that play a significant role in depression and anxiety.

On a personal level, I have worked with two doctors to come up with the right mix of therapy (Cognitive Beharioural Therapy – CBT) and medication. Currently, I go to therapy sessions with a Psychologist and I have a Psychiatrist that has worked with me to prescribe the right mix of medication. I take the antidepressant Pristiq, Deplin – which is a prescribed “medical food” that helps regulate all three mono-amines neurotransmitters, a GABA supplement, a highly concentrated form of Omega-3 supplement and a high-potency multivitamin supplement. All pills are directed at improving brain function as it relates to neurotransmitters. In addition, I exercise daily, manage my nutritional advice and make sure that I get plenty of sleep. It’s not easy. Working this regime has been a challenge. But, I am committed to it.

The results so far have been awesome. I have never felt better in my life and I have been depression free ever since going on the regiment that I described above. As I travel my sober journey, I look forward to living each day knowing that I am doing all the right things to support a healthy mental balance. I also take part in maintenance visits for psychotherapy, which I highly recommend adjunct to medical treatment.

* Neuroendocrinology of stress by Habib KE, Gold PW, Chrousos GP. Clinical Neuroendocrinology Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA. habib@codon.nih.gov
Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am 2001 Sep; 30(3):695-728

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Posted 12/5/2010 9:22 AM CST on livestrong.com Community

I would like to share something that is deeply personal to me. It serves to illustrate what you can do when you work hard at getting the “yuck out”, and your life is given back to you.

I have a goal, or a “higher purpose”, as the folk’s in AA say. My higher purpose has been a guiding light to get sober, stay sober, and also serve as inspiration to reach outside of myself and give back in a small way.

Prior to falling off the rails and into alcoholism, I became involved with helping a child abuse prevention center get off the ground and running. Sadly, at a time when they needed me most, which is always the case in a non-profit, I resigned from my volunteer post. I did that because it was getting in the way of my drinking. We can all fill in the blanks in some way on that one!

Now here’s the good/fun stuff. I am getting back involved with my child abuse prevention interest and have found an even greater capacity to help, having walked through the trail of tears myself. That’s the good news!

The fun, is a video that I’d like to share with you that sums it all up. I made reference to this the other day. I am a big fan of Mary J. Blige. Not only because she is a great talent, but because of her own struggles with addiction and abuse that she has overcome. So, enjoy the music and lyrics if you care to take a look.

Go to http://www.vevo.com. Type in Mary J Blige at the Search and scroll down to the song “Each Tear”. There are multiple versions of the song but I am partial to the one that includes the Italian singer. So look for Each Tear (Italian version). May it inspire you today! I have no personal or promotional interest btw…other than fun and inspiration. Godere!

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I was a weekend beer drinker. Until that is, a few beers suddenly became a became a six-pack at every instance. Then a six-pack became a 12 pack, which in turn became an excuse to get home later and then…when I chose.

Somewhere along the way I found Ketel One vodka. What a relief that was. No more beer for the burgeoning beer gut! In no time I was off and running with Ketel One. Yep, one martini became two martini’s, and two martini’s soon became tee martini’s and, on and on. Then I would hop in the car and drive home!

I remember the first time I drank a whole bottle of Ketel One. I proceeded to throw it up. Without missing a beat, I was struck with thought – “hey, I can drink again”. And so I did!! About that time I self-diagnosed myself as a “functional alcoholic”. That worked! My new label had a certain ring of self-control and dignity to it. Order was restored. Truth be told, my self-respect was beginning to wane. I was aware of it and by giving myself the “functional alcoholic” label, I seemingly could better cope with this awareness.

I know things were starting to look a bit out of control, but I still had a few basic rules that I was abiding by! For one, I never started drinking before 7:30am. But as soon as the family pulled out of the driveway for work and school (always at about 7:30) I was mixing a drink. Toward the end of my drinking, I would put away one bottle before noon, take about a two-hour break and then start in on another bottle. Of that bottle, I would leave about an inch so that I could have enough for an “eye opener” the following morning. After my “eye opener” I would wait around to about 9am and then hit the store for more booze.

My prodigious drinking had crossed that “invisible line” and I was completely unaware. I was physically and mentally addicted to alcohol. I had lost the power of choice. I was no longer in control. It didn’t matter how much feeling and belief that I put into my thousands of pledges to stop drinking, I would always break that pledge no matter what. Despite adverse consequences, which were occurring on a more frequent basis, I would always return to the bottle. I could no longer take it or leave it, for “it” had taken me!

Alcoholism is a slippery slope. It is a progressive illness. And it’s damn sneaky too!

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