Tuesday, October 28, 2014


It's time to start thinking about the opposite of PTSD and what it looks like.

Yesterday it thundered and rained much of the day. Every time I found myself out in the rain and listening to the thunder I was transported, quite viscerally, back to my backpacking trip on North Manitou Island in August.

One morning on that trip I woke in the morning and heard some rumbling coming from over the lake. Storms can come from over the water and can often be heard approaching for hours before they "arrive".

I thought I should make a decision to either stay put, get rained on, let my gear dry out, and then proceed to pack up and go on to the place I wanted to be that night, a wonderful lake in the middle of the island (I had been camping on the west shore of the island for two nights), or skip breakfast, pack up right away, and risk getting rained on while I walked, so I could get to the lake early enough to dry up anything necessary before nightfall. I wanted to spend as much time at the lake as possible. It is one of my spirit spots, a truly brilliant place. I decided to get going. I packed up, walked across the field through high underbrush, where there used to be a lakeside village a hundred years before, to the entrance of the woods.

It was getting darker and darker as I walked. I wanted to at least get into the trees before the rain started. I thought I would get less wet. That was true for a while after the rain started. The old growth beech/maple forest was very dark and a little foreboding as the rain started. I felt a bit like Hansel or Gretel walking through the woods, although I was leaving no breadcrumb trail. After about an hour of walking with the rain barely reaching me through the trees, making incredible music through the leaves, the rumbling became louder and more insistent. The rains started in earnest. A fine symphonic roar. The thunder crashed and the lightning was rapids and startling in its urgency.

This went on for about another hour or more. Yes, I was wet, but I was also completely in awe. As it rained the darkness of the storm started to abate. It grew lighter by degrees, and soon there were shafts of filtered light breaking through the pillars and arches of the trees. The wind swelled the orchestration from the rain and the water left in the trees as it was blown off the leaves. I was soaked. My gear was dry for the most part because of a strategically employed garbage bag. I had not seen another person the entire walk and would not until hours later after I had arrived at the lake, taken a swim and had something to eat. By then the sky was almost clear and clean, bright and hot. I was elevated and completely happy. Maslow might call it self-actualized, but I'm not sure that description does the state of being justice. Connected. A Part of the Whole. Convinced of the Integrated Nature of Living. Unexplainable. To be felt. To be remembered.

This is the state I re-experienced every time I heard the thunder and rain yesterday. Reverse PTSD.

In PTSD flashbacks we are forced by the way in which our mind/body connection builds its defenses to replay vivid remembrances of how we've been hurt. So we can avoid being hurt again, or remember how we maneuvered through that hurt. The opposite of this would be an experience like the one I have described... the ability to relive, re-feel, the excellence and spiritual heights that our lives here offer us as often, at least, as it offers us reminders of what has caused pain.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Some Thoughts About the Nature of Successful Addiction Recovery Programs

A successful program would not base effectiveness solely on sobriety, regardless of how ideal that state might be for the addict.

How many of us exist in the ideal state of our goals, dreams and hopes? Why do we insist on it for addicts? Individuation would necessarily dictate that there are people who are more seriously afflicted than others, and in innumerable individual combinations of ways. In that way it becomes essential to re-commit and re-assure those who have more difficulty with the intensity of their addiction, rather than assume weakness of will, intentional sabotage, or fear that failure of the power of intervention is at the basis of any presumed “failure”.

The ultimate test of the success of an addiction program is if it incorporates the understanding that individuation is a primary feature of the human brain and of human behavior. In that way the degree of intensity with which each individual is afflicted by the multi-faceted dis-ease of addiction would be the primary factor in the design of each person's "program" for recovery. Each program would stay, change and grow, evolve, in place regardless of frequency or duration of relapse.

The power of the addiction, the acceptance of the powerlessness over the addiction, is a primary facet of developing a recovery plan that reduces damage, improves quality of life, and informs the will to succeed in whatever way one measures success for each individual. Demanding ultimate sobriety and abandoning individuals to their own means outside the support structure of the program designed to help them manage the addiction because they have a darker and more insidious struggle against addiction is re-traumatizing at the least. This kind of abandonment might best be considered to be against the basic tenets of ethics for any helping professional engaged in the treatment of addiction.

Will-power may be an important ingredient in each person’s efforts to recover, but it too comes in individuated designs and expression. Combined with such a wide spectrum of individually experienced struggles with addiction, the role of Will and its so-called lack can only really account for one piece of the puzzle of why people succumb and relapse.

It is beyond judgmental, and in the end cruel and self-serving, to demand that Will be the primary attribute that determines a person’s success or failure when it is present in such a variety of degrees and presentations. Successful programs, then, would by necessity be required to re-examine and re-calibrate all of these forgone, generally counter-transference based, and all-too-common provider cultural attitudes about relapse and the role of Will in order to be determined to be successful.

Success would be less measured in terms of sobriety but by other means more fitting to the nature of what is possible according to each individual’s spectrum of abilities and strengths as opposed to what is preferable as determined by and for the provider.