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Cutting Edge Science in a Blanket of Kindness | Beyond Addiction


“Addiction!” Alcohol, street drugs, prescription drug abuse, pornography, binge-eating, gambling, over-the-top shopping. Users, family members, and friends – we’re all victims of vice.  I’m thinkin’ it’s time for a change. And I’ve found some folks who agree.

When it comes to treating substance problems, other compulsive behaviors, and emotional/mental woes; the “same old-same old” hasn’t taken us where we need to go. I see it as a clinician and blogger. Heck, I see it as someone who’s chosen to manage so much of the above for years! Cookie-cutter treatments and stigma-based/generating terminology tire and frustrate me.

Yeah, it’s time for a change.

AddictionThe folks at the Center for Motivation and Change (CMC) flat-out get it, and bring it. Their goal? As they put it, “Better, more effective and more respectful treatment for people struggling with substance use, as well as their families.” Their tagline? At the Crossroads of Science and Kindness.

Are you kidding me? How refreshing is that?!

CMC offers buckets of client services, including inpatient and outpatient treatment. And there’s plenty for family members and friends, grounded in Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) programming. And if that isn’t enough, CMC offers plenty of online and in-print resources. Do yourself a big favor and tap the link in the previous paragraph.

Beyond Addiction | How Science and Kindness Help People Change

…it is our sincere wish to continue changing the conversation around substance use: from the language of shame, confrontation and deficits, to one of pride, collaboration and strength.

K, so now to the big blue book in our featured image. CMC co-founders Jeffrey Foote, PhD and Carrie Wilkens, PhD, and CMCs Nicole Kosanke, PhD – with editor and writer Stephanie Higgs – have put together a game-changing resource.

Beyond Addiction is a help-guide for family members and friends of a loved one whose substance and/or other compulsive behavior problem has knocked them to the mat. The book shows significant others how to use kindness (love that word), positive reinforcement, and communication – along with limit-setting and self-care – to stay in-tune with the mission and help their loved one change.

Make no mistake about it, Beyond Addiction is cutting edge. Adios to tough love, detaching, and co-dependency – and on to the transformative power of relationships for positive change. Oh, and by the way, Beyond Addiction serves as a personal tour guide through the latest research on what really works, providing practical exercises and examples. Also provided are tons of advice and tips for navigating a rather complex recovery system.

Here’s one of the first things that impressed me about the book, the authors, and CMC in kind. It’s pointed-out on the very first page of the Introduction – “Hope in Hell” – that “substance use” or “substance problems” will be used as shorthand for addictive disorders and compulsive behaviors. No more “abuse” or “dependence.” And it’s emphasized that the content of the book applies to any kind of compulsive behavior problem.

And how ’bout this? It’s noted in Chapter 1 that CMC clients are never referred to as “addicts.” Why? From the book…

Research has found no evidence to support the idea that there is a type of person who becomes an ‘addict’ or a set of ‘addictive personality’ traits (commonly believed to be dishonesty, self-centeredness, et cetera). Yet we live in a culture that has come to lump its assumptions about addiction together, despite the evidence that people come to their substance problems from all directions, for all sorts of reasons, and get through these problems in different ways.

We’re not mincing words here: labeling has a demonstrated negative impact. It blinds us to the specifics of an individual’s situation, specifics we need to understand to help that particular person. A label like addict, loaded as it is with negative associations, affects how we feel about people and how we treat them, and how people feel about themselves and their ability to change.

Did I mention game-changing?

So to wrap things up, I gotta’ share just one more statement from the authors…

Our goals in Beyond Addiction are to help families find hope in difficult times, and to learn the skills they need to be a positive and motivating influence in their loved one’s life. We also hope to remove the mantle of shame, guilt, anger and helplessness many families feel. Last, it is our sincere wish to continue changing the conversation around substance use: from the language of shame, confrontation and deficits, to one of pride, collaboration and strength.

“Addiction,” alcohol, prescription drug abuse, pornography, heroin, and so many more compulsive behavior problems. The way it was is the way it is, and the way it can longer be. It’s over-time for a change.

Beyond Addiction and CMC – they get it, and bring it.

Copy of the book? Order up!

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The Vagus Nerve | Depression? Anxiety? Super (Self) Stimulating Subject Matter

Panic Attack Symptoms

“Man, Bill, these panic attack symptoms are taking me out. And I swear major depressive disorder is on-board, as well as butt-kicking stress. Come on, there has to be a creative relief angle here. Something I can put to work right bloody now!”

Well, you know me – always scrounging around for helpful tidbits out there. And I came upon something I think you’re going to like. Something you can use right now.

So what say we chat the vagus nerve (trust me, this is hot)? Oh, and it’s not about working up the courage to increase your bets the next time you hit the casino.

The Vagus Nerve

But when it comes to depression and anxiety relief, you don’t have to fool with invasive or non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation. Nope, you can learn and practice vagal maneuvers.

Okay, so the vagus nerve is the 10th of our 12 cranial nerves. What makes cranial nerves unique is their emergence in pairs from the brain, as opposed to the nerves that thread outward through the spinal cord. With the exception of the optic nerve, the cranial nerves are components of the peripheral nervous system, which serves as a communication relay between the brain and the extremities.

So back to the vagus nerve. In medieval Latin, “vagus” literally means “wandering.” What a perfect fit, because the cord-thick vagus nerve (remember, there are two) originates in the brain stem, extends through the neck and chest, and terminates in the abdomen.

And what does it do? Well, it supplies parasympathetic fibers to our organs from the neck to the top of the colon, with the exception of the adrenal glands.

This parasympathetic biz is huge for us, so let’s stay with it for a bit. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for stimulation of “rest-and-digest”/”feed and breed” activities that occur when we’re at “rest.” Its action is considered complementary to that of the sympathetic nervous system – responsible for stimulating fight/flight response activities.

So that means the vagus nerve orchestrates dynamics such as lowering heart rate and blood pressure, downward movement through the gastrointestinal tract, a number of muscle movements in the mouth (including speech), and keeping the larynx open for breathing.

By the way, have you ever heard of vasovagal syncope (fainting)? Well, excessive activation of the vagus nerve during emotional stress – a parasympathetic overcompensation of a strong stress/anxiety-induced response – is at play. It’s all about a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure. Heck, it can even result in loss of bladder control during moments of extreme fear.

The Vagus Nerve | (Self) Stimulation

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) has been used to control seizures since 1979. Well, the procedure, which uses a pace-maker-like device implanted in the chest, has recently been approved for treating tough cases of depression. And how ’bout this? A non-invasive VNS device is under development and will soon be ready for clinical trials.

But when it comes to depression and anxiety relief, you don’t have to fool with invasive or non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation. Nope, you can learn and practice vagal maneuvers. Here are just a few…

  • Immersing your face in cold water (diving reflex)
  • Attempting to exhale against a closed airway (Valsalva maneuver). It’s usually done by closing your mouth, and pinching your nose shut while pressing out as if blowing up a balloon. A modified – less impactful on the Eustachian tubes – version can be performed by breathing with the glottis (the vocal folds and the opening between them) partially closed. Just do the exhale while making a “Hhhh” sound, like when you’re cleaning your glasses.
  • Singing
  • Tensing your stomach muscles as if to bear down to have a bowel movement (carefully, now)
  • Diaphragmatic breathing techniques

Hey, I’m not into yoga, though I so want to give it a go. Anyway, I’m told basic yoga routines can stimulate the vagus nerve. And yoga-associated activities can, as well. Included is chanting – listening and vocalizing. Incidentally, I find making soft and low-tone chanting/moaning vocalizations very soothing.

Oh, one more idea. I’m really into visualization – it’s always worked well for me. So why not visualize that vagus nerve of yours being stimulated, and generating comfort? Go ahead, do a search for a vagus nerve image that hits home. And work it!

We’re Done

Hey, I don’t know what you’re dealing with – panic attack symptoms, major depressive disorder, stress, generalized anxiety disorder, etc. It’s our responsibility to do all we can to come up with management techniques – and practice them ’til they become just the way we do things.

I think (self) vagus nerve stimulation is one of those techniques. So learn more about it and give it a go, k?

image credit kenhub.com

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A Badge of Honor to Each and Every One of Us!

Bipolar Disorder

In the wake of Memorial Day, I’d like to award some badges of honor. Millions of them, actually. So if you’re dealing with fallout from bereavement, depression, chronic stress, bipolar disorder, anxiety, compulsive behavior probs, PTSD, or other emotional/mental woes – step forward to be adorned.

“Always knew you were a little quirky, Bill, but now I’m worried about you. I deserve a badge of honor? For what? Oh, I know – for honorably screwing-up my life and the lives of those I’ve come in contact with. That must be what you mean.”

Well, not exactly…

You sure seem to have the stops along your supposed failure-trail down-pat, don’t you? Okay, fine. But now I want you to transition from the stops to the fallout from all those supposed failures – the internal and external scars. I’m thinkin’ they generate buckets of aggravation and self-loathing, so maybe it’s time for fresh perspective.

Drawing a blank on those scars? How ‘bout some help?

  • The marks on your skin from self-injury or a suicide attempt
  • The emptiness you feel because of that loving relationship blown-to-bits
  • Those migraines
  • The look of horror on your face when you walk into a roomful of people
  • The extra 40 pounds you carry because of the meds
  • The feeling of total worthlessness because you lost that job
  • Those broken or cracked teeth from constant grinding
  • That embarrassing lip-smacking from years of antipsychotic use
  • The extra wrinkles on your face, and the darkness and bags under your eyes
  • That nasty cough from smoking
  • The trembling generated by your chronic anger
  • The cirrhotic liver from excessive drinking

Catch my drift? What about your scars? Perhaps you’d share in a comment (Yes?)?

Okay, so now that they’ve come to the fore, I’m sure your first reaction will be to reject them as the very emblems of shame and disgrace. However, I’m challenging you to embrace them as badges of honor – all.

Fact is, you earned those scars in the heat of battle. Self-inflicted? Oh, I suppose in the most literal sense. But when it’s all said and done, I’m not thinking you really wanted to harm yourself, or anyone else.


In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end…

Insight | Encouragement | Hope

As long as we’re on the subject of suffering and scars, I’d like to offer some insight, encouragement, and hope.

20th century psychotheorist Dr. Viktor Frankl is one of my heroes. Being a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, this is someone who intimately knows suffering. Who better to teach us a thing or two? Some of his wisdom from his book Man’s Search for Meaning

If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life.

In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end. In other words, life’s meaning is an unconditional one, for it even includes the potential meaning of unavoidable suffering.

Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decided whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.

It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.

And there’s this from a Frankl favorite, 19th century Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky

There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.

Hmmm, so those sufferings and scars of yours. Fallout from bereavement, dysthymia, chronic stress, bipolar disorder, OCD, anorexia, psychosis, or another emotional/mental downer…

Nah, they aren’t failings, rather signs of a battle bravely fought – and won. I mean, (you may not be doing jumping-jacks, but) you’re reading this, right? I say you merit a badge of honor – if not several.

Come on, be proud. Step forward to be adorned.

Looking for more insight, encouragement, and hope? Tons of Chipur titles to cast your eyes upon.

Mobile “Home” | Comfort & Safety Wherev’, Whenev’

Panic Attack Symptoms

“Hey, Bill, whenever I experience major depressive disorder or panic attack symptoms, all I want to do is head for my comfort place – and that’s H-O-M-E. Don’t much feel safe anywhere else.”

Well, that was pretty straight-forward, huh?! And if I had a buck for every time I heard a client say it, I’d be a wealthy man. Heck, add another buck for the number of times I’ve said it over the many years and I’d be right there with Warren Buffett.

So what about you? Does returning to your comfort place – home (maybe even that bed of yours) – loom large in your thinking throughout any given day? Okay, so maybe that place of comfort and safety is your car or your office. Could well be with a person. But I’m thinkin’ you know what I mean. Right?

Actually, the deep meaning and need of home to we human-types is very real and incredibly important. Here’s Maya Angelou’s take, from All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.

Yeah, but this home/comfort/safety biz can become a confounding dilemma for those dealing with emotional/mental woes. I mean, here we are “grown-ups,” and we feel icky and out-of-sorts when we’re out and about – and can’t get the notion of racing for home out of our minds.

So just what are we going to do about that?

Hmmm, well I suppose we can approach the issue from a couple of angles. First consideration would be to explore what it is that makes us feel so uncomfy and unsafe out thar’, and through cognitive (behavioral) work learn it’s grounded in misinterpretation and overreaction. And I’ll guarantee that’s double-true. Hey, if you’re working with a counselor, I encourage you to (continue to) go there. Even if you’re flying solo, you can still soar with it.

But what about other options? And that brings us to the point of the piece (peace?)…

Let’s take our time and reason this out a bit (LOL, right?). If accessibility to home – comfort and safety – is such a huge issue for us, what would be the ultimate fix? That’s right, make it mobile – portable – so we can take it with us where’er we go. Just like the R.V. in our featured image. By the way, is it cool, or what? Have always wanted to take a trip cross-country in one of those sons-a-guns. You?

So, how do we set-up mobile “home?” Pretty simple. Take-up roots – establish home – within. Think about it. If our sense of home/comfort/safety thrives in the deepest reaches of our being, wouldn’t that mean we’d have access to it wherev’, whenev’? And if that’s the case, would we ever need to be overly concerned about what might happen when we’re out and about?

Sounds downright sensible to me. And here are the thoughts of a few folks of note who agree…

I believe that one can never leave home. I believe that one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and the dragons of home under one’s skin, at the extreme corners of one’s eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe.
Maya Angelou, from Letter to My Daughter

Home isn’t a place, its a feeling.
Cecelia Ahern, from Love, Rosie

Home. That wonderful place I was lucky enough to revisit no matter how short a time finally realizing it’s not relegated to just one single place its wherever you make it.
Alyson Noel, from Blue Moon

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.
Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō

Your true home is in the here and the now.
Thích Nhất Hạnh, from Your True Home: The Everyday Wisdom of Thích Nhất Hạnh: 365 days of practical, powerful teachings from the beloved Zen teacher

(Notice I didn’t insult you with “Home is where the heart is.”)

Plenty of wisdom floating about, I’d say.

But what do you say? This mobile “home” concept – is it making sense? More importantly, are you motivated to make it work for you?

Here, how ’bout this thought? K, you’re dealing with major depressive disorder or panic attacks symptoms – or, say, adult separation anxiety. If you could handle all of your life business from your home – which would mean taking it with you no matter where you go – what would become of your suffering? I dunno’, I’m thinkin’ it would exponentially decrease.

If you agree, that rather proves the point, doesn’t it?

So the challenge now becomes facilitation. How might you establish “home,” with its comfort and safety, within – being able to have access to it wherev’, whenev’? Think it over, won’t you? And please take the time to record what you come up with in a comment. After all, Chipur is a sharing, learning, and healing kind of thing.

No doubt about it, “home” is a life essential in soooo many ways. It’s just a matter of how it’s defined and experienced.


image credit | experiencelife.lamesarv.com

Maybe it’s time to grab some comfort and safety by perusing some 600 Chipur titles?