Teaching Emotional Resilience

(Originally published in The Counselor Magazine – June 2020)

If addicts and alcoholics use chemicals to avoid uncomfortable emotions, teaching them to feel and tolerate such emotion should be seen as primary in chemical dependence (CD) treatment.  The goal for this article is to prompt increased focus on this objective and suggest a model by which it can be accomplished in the treatment milieu.

Primary CD treatment is about stopping the bleeding: providing tools necessary to intentionally avoid the use of chemicals and the resulting consequences.  The acute nature of this task requires prompt teaching of such tools to facilitate the resilience necessary to feel and experience the emotions they used to numb with chemicals.  If this primary CD counselor function can be accomplished, it paves the way for the necessary deeper work that ongoing therapy provides.  However, if addicts don’t develop such emotional resilience, they will not be able to stay sober long enough for that deeper work to occur.

When facilitating a CD process group, I’m like Tigger – I pounce!  There is nothing more important in such a group than patients feeling and experiencing uncomfortable emotions in the safe environment we provide.  When someone is observed processing and feeling emotions (or holding such back) that is the direction we want to take the group.  In the most sensitive way possible, we create a pathway for safe processing of these emotions.   As this is occurring, we observe other members of the group whose emotions may have been triggered so we can ask what is happening for them as well.  In this way, we have multiple group members emoting.   Again, there is just no better occurrence in our groups than having our patients feel and experience the emotions they used to anesthetize.

When the time feels right, we prompt group feedback for the person(s) who’ve processed their emotions.  If we’ve structured our groups adequately by modeling/supporting loving and empathic feedback, those processing emotions receive the support and understanding necessary to feel and experience them without using.  It is through such empathy that patients who are experiencing the pain of uncomfortable emotions begin to look and feel better right in front of our eyes.  Witnessing such occurrences is my favorite part of working in this profession.

It is important to note that the full potential of this exercise is lost if we don’t bring to the patient’s attention what just occurred; they have proven they have the ability to feel and experience uncomfortable feelings without using chemicals.  We also bring to their attention that this was accomplished through the help of their sober peers – they processed it and received their love and understanding to get through it.

Finally, we emphasize the importance of attending mutual support groups where a support system can be built allowing them to mimic what they did in group; they get an uncomfortable feeling and get on the phone with someone who can provide the love and empathy necessary to get through it.  In this way, patients build emotional resilience so our primary task is accomplished: working ourselves out of a job with our patients.  They practice this emotional coping skill to develop the resilience necessary to stay sober without the need for our ongoing help.

In one her Ted Talks, Brene’ Brown (2012) concluded from her research that the antidote for shame is empathy – that the two most important words for someone whose shame has been activated are “Me too.”  I don’t think I’m going out too far on a limb to also suggest such application for other uncomfortable emotions, or even craving.  I also believe that the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, were onto something when they discovered that talking to other alcoholics was the key to ongoing recovery.

I hope this information leads to an increased emphasis on helping patients develop the skill of coping with emotions.  If this is accomplished, the result will be the resilience necessary for our patients to avoid drinking and using.

Bob Tyler

Owner: Humble House Publishing and Bob Tyler Recovery Services (Consulting, Public Speaking, CD Private Practice) staysober@bobtyler.net

References:

Brown, Brene’. (2012).  Brene’ Brown / Ted 2012: www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame?language=en

Tyler, Bob. (2005).  Enough Already!: A Guide to Recovery from Alcohol and Drug Addiction. Humble House Publishing: Long Beach.

“90 meetings in 90 days? – That sounds like every day!”

If you have made a decision that you might benefit from stopping drinking or using addictive substances, and are considering the 12 step programs as a potential solution to your problem, I must say from personal experience you are definitely barking up the right tree.  I made the same decision 20 years ago and have been sober ever since.  The starting point is to begin going to the meetings as soon as possible.  At these meetings you will hear what others have done to achieve successful recovery.  It is also at these meetings that you will begin to develop your sober support system.  Meetings can be found by simply calling the central office of the program of your choice and asking where and when the local meetings are held.  Telephone numbers for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) can typically be found in the phone book.  If you want to contact one of the other anonymous programs, the AA or NA office will usually be able to direct you to them.  You can also get the numbers by calling your local alcohol and drug treatment center – also found in the phone book.  Meetings can be found in most cities at multiple times during the day and evening hours.  When you go to a meeting, pick up a meeting directory so you can plan which meetings you will go to next.

 The most common suggestion regarding the number of meetings a newcomer should attend is 90 meetings in your first 90 days.  This was suggested to me in my early recovery and I complied because, by the time I got to the program, I was truly ready to follow direction from those who knew more than I about sobriety.  Some of the reasoning behind this suggestion is that in the first three months of daily meeting attendance you will learn what you need to know to stay sober.  Another reason that was presented to me is it takes ten to twelve weeks to develop new habits.  Developing the habit of addressing my recovery on a daily basis was very important for me as I have a tendency to become easily distracted. More on meetings to follow…
 
(Excerpts taken from Bob’s award-winning book, Enough Already!: A Guide to Recovery from Alcohol and Drug Addiction. Available at www.bobtyler.net .

Am I crazy? Try 12 step Program

No Insurance?  A 12 Step Program is free!

Given that alcohol and drug addiction is multi-billion dollar a year issue (healthcare, incarceration, etc.), that one in ten alcoholics ever get help, and that two in ten alcoholics who seek help ever get it (availability issue), we have a huge problem in this country that can be at least partially addressed by teaching addicts how to use the free community resource of an NA, CA, or AA 12 Step Program.

12 step program

I work at a private, for-profit, treatment program and when someone finally gets enough courage to call us, if they don’t have insurance nor the ability to pay for treatment, we need to refer them to county-funded programs – all of which have one month long waiting lists at a minimum.  I know in my heart that few, if any, of those people we refer ever get into these programs because the disease will tell them, “Well, at least you tried,” and they return to use.
So, after years of use, someone finally makes perhaps the most important call of their lives, and the best I can do is to send them into recovery “limbo” somewhere?  Given that I take great pride in helping people turn their lives around, this horrifies me. 
In summary regarding this dilemma, we have this multi-billion dollar a year healthcare issue and most people who want help are not able to get it.  However, we have free help in the form of 12 Step Programs (AA, NA, CA, etc.) in nearly every community and often at multiple times a day.  Shouldn’t these people be taught how to use these free 12 step programs so they get the help they need?  Am I crazy or is this a “no-brainer?!”
Enough Already
Enough Already
Learning to live drug free: how one man’s life experience is leading others out of addiction
$14.95
Craving and Relapse - the DVD
Craving and Relapse - the DVD
Learning to live drug free: how one man’s life experience is leading others out of addiction
$139.95

Craving & Relapse video

Bob discusses the difficulty that alcoholics and addicts have accessing treatment if they have no insurance or can’t otherwise afford it, and that the reason he wrote his book “Enough Already!: A Guide to Recovery from Alcohol and Drug Addiction was so those who need help can learn how to get it using the free 12-step community resources.

note: this is a YouTube video – the actual DVD sound is perfectly in sync