The pain of alcoholism — Part 1

In my work as a coun­selor, some­times I see and hear “themes” for the week; com­mon threads woven through the tapes­try of sto­ries I’m hear­ing. Although I am a gen­er­al­ist and work with many types of men­tal health issues, this week the theme is alco­holism and its effects. It is syn­chro­nis­tic, in that I cel­e­brated 34 years sobri­ety on Mon­day, so my aware­ness of how dif­fer­ent my life would have been had I con­tin­ued to drink (if I were still here at all) is heightened.

I hap­pened to see four clients who are sober, and work a “pro­gram,” and are back in coun­sel­ing work­ing on other issues. They all feel the same grat­i­tude and humil­ity I feel, to be part of the lucky group that are sur­viv­ing alco­holism and drug addic­tion, and have a shot at liv­ing a full, rich life.

Oth­ers are strug­gling still, and fac­ing many of the con­se­quences which accom­pany the poor choices made as a result of chem­i­cal use. This includes loss of dri­ving priv­i­leges, con­flict with fam­ily, legal prob­lems, health trou­bles. One is deal­ing with chronic relapse cou­pled with long-standing men­tal dis­or­ders and going to treat­ment yet again. One is begin­ning to look at the role alco­hol plays in his life. Another is start­ing treat­ment at an early age, rather reluc­tantly, in the hope of avoid­ing worse con­se­quences and losses.

I saw a num­ber of peo­ple whose lives are or have been deeply and frus­trat­ingly affected by some­one else’s chem­i­cal abuse. The lies, incon­sis­ten­cies, and cycles of prob­lems they expe­ri­ence and the aban­don­ment and con­fu­sion they feel is tan­gi­ble. Those that grew up with alco­holic par­ents are try­ing to fig­ure out exactly what hap­pened and under­stand the last­ing effects they expe­ri­ence, with dif­fi­culty trust­ing, believ­ing in them­selves, and cop­ing with their emo­tions effec­tively. They are angry, con­fused, feel­ing guilty and grieving.

It is unspeak­ably painful to watch lives dis­in­te­grate due to chem­i­cal use.

It is incred­i­bly reward­ing to see lives saved, knit back together, and hope renewed, when a per­son grabs hold of the life­line and does the work to get sober. It is inspir­ing to see a per­son work through ACOA (adult child of an alco­holic) issues and live a mean­ing­ful and bal­anced life.

It is ter­ri­bly frus­trat­ing to see how casu­ally our world treats chem­i­cal use, and encour­ages it.

Posted in ACOA, Addiction, Alcoholism, Codependency, Counseling, Health Issues, Relationships, Therapy, Transformation | Leave a comment

Soul Retrieval

I am pre­sent­ing a “Soul Retrieval” day retreat today to help fur­ther the growth process of the par­tic­i­pants. I am a great admirer of Ange­les Arrien and the ideas she has devel­oped through work­ing with Shamanic cultures.


Shamanic soci­eties, build­ing on age-old wis­dom, believe that the world and its chal­lenges can drain our energy. The expe­ri­ences of dis­cour­age­ment, pain, loss, dis­ap­point­ment, loss of mean­ing and feel­ing stuck all drain us. The shamans taught that if we “stop singing, stop danc­ing, are no longer enchanted by sto­ries, or become uncom­fort­able with silence, we expe­ri­ence soul loss, which opens the door to dis­com­fort and dis­ease (Arrien).”



In  The Four-Fold Way, Ange­les Arrien describes the shamans’ rem­edy for soul loss:

The Four Uni­ver­sal Heal­ing Salves:

sto­ry­telling, singing, danc­ing and silence

Becom­ing open, again, to the Heal­ing Salves can bring about “soul retrieval” and we can recon­nect to joy, opti­mism, hope, accep­tance, moti­va­tion and love. Arrien also says the goal of man­ag­ing a dif­fi­cult time is accep­tance, not res­ig­na­tion; detach­ment, not hold­ing on; to be “open to out­come, not attached to out­come.”


When­ever there is CHANGE there is LOSS; when­ever there is loss we GRIEVE. There­fore, when­ever there is change, we grieve. Rit­ual is a human tra­di­tion that helps deal with loss, grief and change. The losses may be related to los­ing a per­son we love, los­ing a life style, health, finan­cial secu­rity, safety, faith or meaning.


Arrien says,

Rit­ual is the con­scious act of rec­og­niz­ing a life change, and doing some­thing to honor and sup­port the change through the pres­ence of such ele­ments as wit­nesses, gift giv­ing, cer­e­mony, and sacred inten­tion. In this way human beings sup­port the changes they are expe­ri­enc­ing and cre­ate a way ‘to fit things together again.’”


 Singing, sto­ry­telling, silence and danc­ing help us cope with grief and are part of today’s rit­ual of soul retrieval.


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We’re in it Together


I have always said that the peo­ple with which I work are “nor­mal peo­ple who have encoun­tered bumps in the road of life,” or some such anal­ogy. I also have a child’s draw­ing that shows a fam­ily fish­ing in a boat (Sloop John B as a mat­ter of fact) and I have it framed as a rep­re­sen­ta­tion that “we’re all in the same boat.” The mean­ing behind that for me is that my jour­ney and that of my clients’ is the same—we take dif­fer­ent paths at times, are at dif­fer­ent places on the paths, yet the expe­ri­ence of jour­ney­ing through the chal­lenges of life is known to every one of us. Psy­chother­a­pists and other coun­selors are merely helpers who know a bit and under­stand more of the jour­ney and the process, and thus, can help oth­ers move along the path more effec­tively. The key is for the helper to man­age her own trou­bles suc­cess­fully, in order not to get tripped up by them.


Sim­i­larly, physi­cians and nurses get ill at times, and need care, and only if they choose not to get help or to deny their med­ical needs does the ill­ness get in the way of help­ing their patients. Attend­ing to one­self is essen­tial for any helper to con­tinue to be effec­tive. Find­ing my way through the bri­ars, pit­falls and thun­der­storms of life, and con­tin­u­ing to use the knowl­edge gained to help oth­ers on the jour­ney inspired this web­site and blog. I hope it will be helpful.

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As a psy­chother­a­pist I have wit­nessed cri­sis lead­ing to transformation.


I have also expe­ri­enced cri­sis and trans­for­ma­tion myself. In my 50th year I expe­ri­enced great change and chal­lenges. I moved back home with my par­ents to care for my mother, who was dying from ALS. I also got divorced, got can­cer, lost both of my beloved cats, started a new career, and bought a house of my own.


It became a time of trans­for­ma­tion. The wis­dom I gained brought a bet­ter qual­ity to my life. It also enabled me to work with clients at a deeper level.


There were four essen­tial build­ing blocks that allowed me to grow stronger rather than grow bit­ter, and how to trans­form the expe­ri­ence of pain and change it into one of growth and enrichment.




These prin­ci­ples are the keys to get through the tri­als of life. I now share what I learned in those days, to help oth­ers to uti­lize these skills to cope with a major life chal­lenge or transition.


It might be that you are a care­giver, it may be that you have expe­ri­enced loss of health or a job. Maybe a mar­riage is end­ing. What­ever the tran­si­tion, these tools can help you cope and feel better.


On the jour­ney through care­giv­ing or sig­nif­i­cant per­sonal tran­si­tion fac­ing strug­gle, emo­tional pain and fear are inevitable, but trans­form­ing those expe­ri­ences into an enrich­ing expe­ri­ence is a choice. This site is intended to inform, touch, and in some way, inspire you to do just that.



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