Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Let's Talk About Relapse - Day 12 - The Mask of Denial !

Last week, I blogged about the 3 Masks of Relapse.  As an introduction, I wrote, "I believe that the very moment we are triggered and are tempted  into relapse, we are presented with three masks.These masks seduce us into further relapse and they extend our stay there." And I went on to say that we have a choice - either to adorn the masks and re-enter into the dance of destruction or to leave the masks behind and continue embracing the dance of discovery.Today, let's start learning about the 3 Masks of Relapse and how understanding them can indeed help us sustain our recovery!

We will begin with the Mask of Denial - probably the one we are most familiar
Mask of Denial
with; and, in my opinion, probably the one that is the toughest to deal with.

Although the 3 Masks can present themselves in any order, I find that typically it is the Mask of Denial that rears its ugly face first! This is important.  Think back for minute about what was going on with your thinking as soon as you were triggered and started to 'fall back' or 'slip into' a previous unhealthy pattern of behaving or feeling. Whether it was being tempted to fall off of a healthy eating plan, or picking up the phone to call a toxic partner, or driving by a familiar bar, or starting to rescue someone who continues to injure you - our minds are immediately tricked and trapped by the Mask of Denial.

Have you ever heard yourself saying or remember your mind playing these messages from the Mask of Denial?
  • It's ok. One drink won't hurt me. Besides, I've proven myself.  I can quit again if I want to.
  • It's just this once.  I'll go back to him.  If it gets bad -well, I can leave any time.
  • Who is going to know?  She needs my help. I don't need other people telling me what to do.
  • I've gone so long without seeing my old friends. Even though they are still using, one night isn't going to hurt! 
  • I know I probably shouldn't go there. But, I'll be ok. I'm stronger now.  How could they hurt me anymore than they already have?  
Once we allow ourselves to begin, even for just a moment, to put on the Mask of Denial and to entertain these messages, we are setting ourselves up for relapse. And, if we don't acknowledge and address this 'stinkn thinkn' (as is said in AA), we will slip right into a full relapse episode. These messages are forceful! They are relentless! And most importantly - they are deceptive. Let me explain.

Personality of Truth
Many years ago, I had the privilege of participating in a week long professional training at the Betty Ford Center in California. One of the workshops that I attended has stayed with me to this day.  It was called the "The Personality of Truth versus The Personality of Lies". As I learned about the presence of "The Personality of Lies", it awakened me to the power of self-deception that overcomes us when we adorn The Mask of Denial. What do I mean? Read on, carefully. When we are triggered into relapse or when we are tempted to regress into unhealthy patterns of thinking, behaving, and feeling, a 'war' begins in our minds. It is a battle between The Personality of Lies - a voice screaming the justifications for the return to an unhealthy self - and The Personality of Truth - a voice fighting to reclaim and sustain the healthy self.  As the voices of war rage on, going back and forth, and back and forth, it is crazy making! If The Personality of  Truth is to have a fighting chance, we must retreat from the battle field, even momentarily, and grab hold of this reality...

The Mask of Denial is A Mask of Lies  -  Self-Inflicted Lies!

Personality of Lies
Therefore, when that voice enters our mind that lures us away from our healing truths, we must immediately recognize it for what it is - self-inflicted lies. If we choose to listen to them, they take us over and then they becomes us. We slip further into full relapse. And as we reside there, the Mask of Denial conforms to our false self, camouflages our intense shame and pain, and catapults us more deeply into relapse. These self-imposed lies continue, smothering out any residual truths and further sabotaging our recovery paths.  

However, we have another choice. With awareness and knowledge about the Mask of  Denial, we can prepare ourselves for war! As soon as a message of self- deception or a voice of lies enters on to the mind-field, we must employ this 5 step a battle plan!
  • Recognize the voice or message as a self-inflicted lie! Call it out!
  • Remove it! Relinquish it!
  • Replace it with a message of truth!
  • Return to a healthy choice.
  • Repeat the process, as many times as necessary.

Don't get me wrong!  This is hard work!  But each time you discard The Mask of Denial, you defeat the self-imposed lies. Each time you listen to the Personality of Truth, you fortify the healthy self. As the layers of shame fall away, you will breathe more freely and fully. And, most importantly, you will continue to...

                                                    Reclaim Your True Self
The Healthy Self - Breathing More Fully and Freely

Next time, we will tackle The Mask of Disguise.

Homework: When you put on the Mask of Denial, what lies do you tell yourself?  This is hard, I know. But this is important. We need to take a brutally honest inventory of our self-imposed lies if we are going to have a fighting chance against them. Name these lies. Write them down. Know them. So, the next time they invade your peaceful, truthful recovery mind-field, you will be armed and ready to go to battle and to defeat them! 


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Let's Talk About Relapse - Day 11 - The 3 Masks of Relapse!

For several weeks, we have been talking about the importance of triggers in relapse. We have discussed how triggers can propel us back into an episode of relapse, and yet, we learned how they also can be timely teachers that direct us on our paths of wellness!  We learned that triggers can be external - coming from every place, every thing and every one! We also learned that triggers can be internal - emanating from our life messages  that we carry with us based on our past experiences. And, we even learned about relapse tools that are easy to implement  such as a "trigger thermometer" and a 4 step exercise. And, finally, we discussed the importance of professional guidance, support, and/or counseling if there are unresolved issues of injury or injustice.

Today, I am going to begin blogging about the 3 Masks of Relapse. What am I talking about?  Why are they important? Let's begin our discussion!

First of all, when we think of the word 'mask', I think most of our minds probably go to Halloween or some sort of costume event. These are fun examples of when we can dress up and cover up who we really are. We are free to be someone or become something else!  We are not constrained by our own insecurities, shyness, awkwardness, personalities, or even our looks! Why? Because we can hide behind a mask - and we can pretend to be someone or something else, at least for a while.

This same analogy holds true with our relationship with relapse. Because we are so filled with shame, embarrassment, guilt, and self-blame when we enter into relapse, we do not want to see ourselves for who we are, nor do we want others to do so either. So we hide behind masks where we can escape our pain, at least for a short time. We cover up our messes and we dress up our shame so we don't suffocate in it.

This next statement is important.  It is why I have been spending so much time on triggers... 

I believe that the very moment that we are triggered and that we are tempted into relapse, we are presented with 3 masks.  And we will do one of two things...

We will grab one, and then another, and then another, and we will lie and pretend that we are someone else. We will do the dance of self-destruction and we will tell ourselves that our turmoil is only temporary. We will hide behind our masks- slipping further and further away.


We will acknowledge and address our triggers in healthy ways and we will leave the masks behind. We will grab hold of our truths - about who we are, where we are in our recovering, and what we want for ourselves. We will do the dance of discovery and we will tell ourselves that embracing wellness leads to finding more truths and living more freely and fully.

Over the next several weeks, I am going to discuss each of the three masks and their role in seducing us into further relapse and in extending our stay there. By learning about them, we become more knowledgeable about the trappings of relapse. And, just as importantly, we become more grounded in our recovery work as we embrace healing strategies and tools to sustain us in whole and healthy ways.

Next blog, get ready for The 3 Masks of Relapse...

                                 Mask of Disguise

Mask of Detachment 

Mask of Denial

For now...please continue with your homework..
Homework: Continue working on your triggers.  Do so until it becomes second nature to you! We never let this rest.  Remember, triggers are our friends - our teaching companions! Our best allies!! Visit previous blogs for more instructions!

Also, I would love to share something special with you!
Special Offer!!  If you want to enter to win a free copy of Mountain Air: Relapsing and Finding the Way Back...One Breath at a Time, go to Goodreads Giveaway! Starts July 25th, 2013!!  http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/57310-mountain-air-relapsing-and-finding-the-way-back-one-breath-at-a-time  Chapter Five -Fissure in the Soil - deals with the 3 masks!!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Cory Monteith - Relapse Claims Another Shining Star

Cory Monteith made no secret of his struggle with drugs and alcohol. Given his notoriety from the hit series GLEE, Cory chose not to hide behind a pain-filled past but instead was transparent about his difficult journey. As a fan of GLEE for some time, I couldn't help but wonder how and why relapse claimed this shining star so soon after leaving rehab. Given the importance of triggers that we have been discussing in previous blogs, my attention was drawn to this article about Cory's untimely passing.

In a Health Blog posted by Nancy Churmin (dallasnews- life,2013/07/17), she states, " It's important to understand how difficult it is for those who are suffering from addiction to avoid cues that trigger a heightened level of urge to use drugs."  

Ms. Churmin goes on to say,

"These cues [triggers] include objects and environments that have been conditioned or have been associated with the drug.  Sometimes these cues in themselves increase the rewarding effects of the drugs and makes abstinence extremely difficult." 

In her blog, Nancy Churmin also added a quote from Dr. Francesca Filbey, a researcher at the University of Texas Dallas Center for Brain Health, who states, "The effects of cues on the brain of addicted individuals has been well studied in our laboratory and provides evidence for the changes in the brain that lead to compulsive drug-seeking behavior in these individuals."

This quote is in line with much of the research that shows that long-term substance use alters brain chemistry. In a blog "Myths About Addiction: They Could Stop If They Wanted To" (psychcentral.com, 2013/07/17), the article goes on to say...

"These changes [in the brain] can cause intense cravings, impulse control issues, and compulsion to continue use. Due to these chemical changes it is very difficult for a true addict to quit solely by willpower and determination." 

Relapse is a very real part in recovering of any kind, and yet,Cory's passing reminds of its all-too-often final outcome. Let's use this time to remind ourselves of the hard work that it takes to 'stay the course' in our recovering journeys. Let's not forget that relapse is relentless and outside forces do not rest. We must not either...

Let's continue to pay attention to ALL the 'cues' - the chemical, physical, emotional, psychological, environmental triggers  - that can and will catapult us into previous unhealthy ways of thinking, behaving, and feeling. Let's be courageous and examine ourselves and our past pain. And let's start addressing how and why our triggers are signals to us about underlying issues and symptomatology which are fueling our relapse. 

As I write in Mountain Air: Relapsing and Finding The Way Back...One Breath at a Time  www.amazon.com/author/hollikenley

Chapter 5 - "Fissure In The Soil"

"As painful as this process can be [addressing triggers ], identifying and working through our fissures is essential in order to break though the realities of relapse and to unleash the shroud of shame it carries with it. If we are to reclaim ourselves, we must do this."

In closing, I can't help but wonder if Cory Monteith was aware of his triggers and how they impact recovery?  Hearing that he had a painful past - experiencing his parents' divorce at a young age and attending over 16 schools - I wonder what his 'life messages' were and if he had time to tend to those and work through them? And with an empathic spirit, I wonder why such a shining star - one who was so well-known and well-loved, was found alone in a hotel room suffocating in an episode of relapse and, undoubtedly, in a pool of shame.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Let's Talk About Relapse - Day 10 - More Triggers! What Are Life Messages and How They Can Help Us!

Over the last two blogs, we have been discussing some really good news about triggers!

Although triggers can and will catapult us back into previous unhealthy patterns of thinking, behaving, and feeling, they can also serve to teach us more about ourselves and how to move forward in healing and healthy ways!

Learning to be in touch with your triggers!
In the last blog, I described several different examples of how individuals became triggered by someone or something. I went on to show how these individuals took time to stop and calm themselves, how they listened to and payed attention to how the trigger was affecting them, and then, how they made a deliberate choice to implement a healthy response. In two examples, I demonstrated how individuals kept a pulse on their levels of wellness and strength by checking in with their internal 'trigger thermometers', which helped them in making healthy decisions as well as utilizing additional support.

In each of the previous three stories, the triggers experienced by the individuals were psychological, physical, emotional and even environmental in nature.  In other words, their triggers were external - distinct people, places and things that tugged at the individuals/couples' previous unhealthy patterns of thinking, behaving, and feeling.  In each example, strategies were implemented to keep the triggers in check and move ahead in healthy ways.

Although it is extremely important to keep a pulse on these 'external triggers' and mitigate them, we must also learn to recognize how external  triggers activate our 'internal triggers' or 'life messages'. And because our life messages from the past can be extremely painful and put us at risk for relapse, we must learn about them, how to process and heal them, and how to move forward in healthy ways!

Let's take a look at a few examples.  (The names and people I am referencing are fictitious.)

Tanya is a highly successful business woman.  She spent many years in an abusive relationship. Although she has been divorced for several years, she finds herself in relationships with men who do not treat her well. Tanya learns in her counseling that she has very little self -esteem or worth. Growing up, Tanya heard over and over again from her father that she was 'nothing'. In fact, her father verbally abused her for most of her life. Tanya's 'life message' is, "When it comes to men, I am worthless. I deserve to be treated this way." So, as soon as she meets a man, Tanya replays this life message which in turn triggers her into a powerless role and into a  position of accepting unhealthy behaviors from her partners. Through a lot of hard work and healing in her counseling, Tanya is learning how to re-script her 'life messages' and to empower herself. 

Although male partners can be external triggers for Tanya, she must also learn to address her internal triggers - her life messages - if she is going to give herself and a healthy partner a chance!   

Let's take a look at how another example of past 'life messages' plays an important role in triggering an individual. Brandon has struggled for years with all kinds of substance addiction.  He has been involved in petty crimes, but also has had several DUI's and has served time in jail.  At nearly 25 years old, he has lost almost everything that is important to him. For the past 3 years, he has been sober and working his 12-step recovery program faithfully. Brandon is learning to deal with his external triggers really well. However, recently, he realized that whenever he was around his mom, he felt triggered. Not being able to pinpoint the exact reason, Brandon went in for some individual counseling. After a couple of sessions, Brandon realized that when his mom tries to help him, or gives him advice, or extends some sort of kindness, he feels incredibly angry and resentful. When he thinks of his mom now,  his life message is telling him, "Where were you when I needed you growing up?  You were never around!  I felt abandoned, alone...there was no one!" Brandon is working on his abandonment issues with his mom. He is also learning to heal himself through processing the old 'life messages' and scripting new ones.
Brandon is triggered when he thinks about his childhood.

Although it is really important for Brandon to keep paying attention to his external triggers and continue working his 12 step program, he is learning how  his  'life messages'  can and will injure him ( trigger a relapse) and how he can heal those!

Let's take a look a one last example. Jessica and James are a young married couple who have been together since high school.  They've hit a few bumps in the road lately; Jessica has been reacting angrily to minor things, and she and James have been arguing quite a bit.  They have decided to go to couples' counseling. In session, Jessica describes how recently James has been spending more time with some of his high school friends, and  how James is really excited about going to their ten year high school reunion. Jessica shares how she has no desire to go at all, and is hurt by the amount of time that James is spending with old his buddies.
Jessica and James learning about 'life messages'.
In session, Jessica opens up and shares her 'life messages' about her years at high school: "When I even think of high school, I feel like such a failure. Everyone hated me - they made fun of me -  I was a nothing. Just hearing about those people makes me feel awful.  I don't want to see any of them! And when James is with them, I feel like they are more important than me."  In their couples' counseling, Jessica learns to honor her feelings, to heal past wounds, and how to re-script her life messages.  James learns how to be  more sensitive to Jessica's needs while still honoring his own. 
This is important...

Someone or something might be an immediate external trigger, but often, we need to stop and listen to our past painful  internal triggers -  our 'life messages' - that are coming up for us.  And, we need to take time to tend to them - heal them - and move forward scripting new life messages. 

* This work is not easy...but it is necessary.

Homework: Continue identifying your triggers.  Continue utilizing your 'trigger thermometer'; if and when you feel triggered, implement the 4 step exercise from the previous blog:

  • Stop                                                                                 
  • Calm Yourself
  • Claim Your Present Reality
  • Choose An Alternate Healthy Behavior.

* And, as you are working with your external triggers, begin paying attention to your 'internal triggers' - your 'life messages'. As you listen to them, stop and write them down. If you find your past life messages to be painful, and more importantly, that they are fueling and feeding your unhealthy ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, please consider seeking out additional professional advice, counsel, or guidance. 

Also, I've included two self-help books that contain exercises for working through past life messages.

Two healing references are:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Let's Talk About Relapse - Day 9 - Triggers: More Good News!

Last time, we learned some really good news about triggers!

Although triggers can and will catapult us back into previous unhealthy patterns of thinking, behaving, and feeling, they can also serve to teach us more about ourselves and how to move forward in our recovery in healing and healthy ways!

Triggers can also teach us!

In the previous blog, we were introduced to two important strategies to use as our triggers signal to us that we need to take care of ourselves and make different healthy choices. Let's take a look at a few examples of how these strategies work. (The names and people I am referencing are fictitious.)

Robert has been working on his sobriety for over two years.  He faithfully works his program of recovery - attending 12 step meetings, checking in with his sponsor, and has formed new friendships within the recovery community.  However, Robert has one old friend, Paul, who is still actively in his addiction.  Every once in a while, Paul will call Robert and want to 'hang out'. When this happens, Robert is 'triggered'. Robert wants to go, but knows he shouldn't.  Robert remembers all the good times, how long they have been best friends, and how they have 'been there' for one another. Then, Robert starts to recall all the bad times and how messed up Paul still is. At this critical point, Robert must stop - and pay attention to the messages from the trigger. And he must take care of himself. Perhaps Robert  needs to set a better boundary about phone calls from Paul. Or, Robert needs to reassess and readjust his boundaries with Paul - telling him exactly what he will do or won't do with Paul. Possibly, Robert needs to go to meeting and get the additional support he needs.  Robert is learning to do the following...

Listen to what the trigger is telling us!  Pay attention to it! Choose a different path!   

Triggers help us to take care of ourselves!

Let's take a look at another example of how to make triggers work for us! Mary has been in many unhealthy relationships during her young adult life. She recently broke up with her long-term controlling boyfriend. She is lonely and misses him, but knows she cannot go back to the way things were. As Mary looks around her apartment, she see reminders of Brad - photos, a baseball cap, ticket stubs from a concert they attended. These are all triggers. Although Mary is very depressed, she stops and takes time for herself. She takes a pulse her 'trigger thermometer' and knows that she is very vulnerable and weak. For now, Mary knows she needs to do two things: first, put the mementos of Brad away (out of sight - out of mind!); and secondly, she needs to call a good friends who support her and her healthy decisions - she needs a little TLC! Mary is learning to implement a strategic tool...

Keep a pulse on our 'trigger thermometer'! It is right there with us - waiting and wanting to guide our choices and our decisions!!

Let's take a look at one last example. Family dynamics can be very difficult for many people. We feel the pull of responsibility and of obligation, and yet often times we sacrifice our own well-being in rescuing or enabling  unhealthy or irresponsible family members. Although this example applies to numerous situations, I see many parents - especially Baby Boomers - struggling with this issue with their adult children. For example, Barbara and Mark have raised and supported three adult children. Although all three have graduated from college, Barbara and Mark don't want to see them 'struggle like they had to'. When they see their adult children going through tough times, this is a 'trigger' for Barbara and Mark. They become weak when they remember how no one helped them.  Recently, a phone call came in from one of their adult children asking for more financial help.  Only this time, because Barbara and Mark have been attending counseling and working on their codependency issues, they know this is an emotional trigger for them. They stop and check in with one another; they talk about how they are stronger and how they need to keep the boundaries they've learned; and they agree upon a response that protects them. Barbara and Mark are learning....
Triggers can bring us closer as we make healing choices.

Triggers can pull us back into old patterns of thinking and behaving...and they can propel us forward into new healthy ways of choosing and being!

Triggers can be friendly allies, if we allow them to be.  If you noticed in each example, I used the word 'stop' several times (as soon as a trigger signals a response).  Let's add an easy 4 step tool as we learn how to make more good news out of our triggers!

As soon as you feel triggered:

  • Step One - STOP
  • Step Two - CALM YOURSELF (Take deep breaths, sit down, relax...keep breathing)
    Step Two - Calm ourselves!
  • Step Three - CLAIM YOUR PRESENT REALITY (Recall where you are right now; that you are in a well place; that you have worked hard; that you are safe and healthy; that you have the right to take care of you)
  • Step Four - CHOOSE AN ALTERNATIVE HEALTHY BEHAVIOR - (Call a friend, sponsor, or counselor; set or reset a boundary; reclaim your voice and state what you need; set and adjust expectations and then maintain them; reinstate your self-worth and self-respect by making choices that are healing for you).

Homework:  Keep identifying your triggers!  Utilize your 'trigger thermometer' - its right there for you! When you feel triggered, implement the 4 step exercise!  Every time you choose healthiness, feel your strength - breathe in the rewards of choosing wellness!


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