How to Turn Your Childhood Hardship Into Success

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It is possible to experience childhood adversity and still feel good as an adult. In my most recent study of 310 successful men and women — featured in my latest book, The Adversity Advantage — 40% experienced child abuse, witnessed domestic violence, or had an alcoholic/substance abusing parent struggling with addiction. If you broaden the definition to include poverty, death of a family member, divorce, or mental illness, 60% experienced serious childhood adversity. In spite of these impactful childhood problems, this group of successful people reported a high level of life satisfaction as adults, much higher than the average in the population.

Many reported that things did not come easily for them, however. They grew up with poor role models for communication, conflict negotiation, self-esteem, forming relationships, and expression of anger. The abuse they experienced created many personal and work problems. Turning their adversity into successes required them to become students of factors that lead to success.

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My Lost Decade: A Story of Addiction and Recovery

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As part of May’s Mental Health Month, we shared stories that raised awareness about mental illness and empowered those who suffer from it. This piece is part of our Darkest Day series, a collection of stories from people who’ve made it through the worst of their illness and now light the way for others. #LightYourWay

It is the middle of the morning and I am standing in front of a sliding pocket door. The pocket door is made of wood and my forehead rests against the surface. The door divides the apartment: me on one side and my roommate on the other. It’s not a particularly nice piece of wood — unfinished, some rudimentary bevels — but it is holding me up. Earlier in the morning, I was snorting Ritalin in my closet. I have a pretty indigo glass plate I use for crushing the pills that’s now scratched with use. I was looking down at a line of powder on the plate. It was my fifth or sixth pill of the night, at a time when I was snorting 20 or so pills in a day. With the straw in my hand, I considered a couple of truths: I’d stolen the pills from my roommate; I’d eventually be caught; part of me wanted to be caught; part of me hoped I’d die before that happened.

“We really have a problem,” I said to myself. When things got really bad — when I couldn’t believe the things I was doing — I’d start referring to myself as a group.

I snorted the line. The burn felt like pain and ecstasy and shame. But no matter how high I’d get myself those days — dripping sweat, heart jumping in my chest, and ringing in my ears — I couldn’t shake the feeling of loneliness. And later in the evenings, I’d start drinking whiskey to slow down my body. Rinse, lather, repeat. Continue reading My Lost Decade: A Story of Addiction and Recovery

Attending to Your Mental Health During Addiction Recovery

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So much of my work, whether in individual counseling with clients or directing the day-to-day programming of their clinical experience in rehab, has been about the business of helping people in recovery improve their mental health.

More than a decade of work in the field of addiction treatment has reinforced, for me, that taking care of your mental health is a critical component in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. It is one of the most important factors in achieving long-term sobriety and living a happy and fulfilling life in the process.

What Is Mental Health?

But if mental health is so important to recovery, what is it really? Mental health refers to the state of our emotional, psychological and social make-up — the interrelated thoughts, feelings and behaviors that heavily influence our life choices and experiences, the way we handle stress and our relationships with others.

In this sense taking care of our mental health is a whole lot more complex than other forms of physical hygiene that are good for us, like washing hands before meals or taking a daily multi-vitamin. Here are some pointers for how to take care of your mental health when you’re in recovery. Continue reading Attending to Your Mental Health During Addiction Recovery

Therapy and Becoming the Person You Want to Be

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As a counselor, I am usually the one who asks the questions. I often joke that I get paid for each question I ask. That’s why I ask so many good questions.

Recently a client asked me a perplexingly simple question I didn’t have an answer for.

My client previously discussed how she believes her family is “dysfunctional.” We then talked about the word, it felt like a psycho babble cuss-word. That is, when you are mad at someone, you call them dysfunctional. The word has taken on many meanings in our culture, including someone who is:

  • Unable to handle life
  • Poor at relationships and intimacy
  • Being an emotional mess
  • Not normal
  • Not like the rest of us

As a therapist I confront this concept every time it comes up in conversation. It is a word that creates a wasteland of comparison, judgment, shame, and the conclusion that we are a messed up, abnormal person. Continue reading Therapy and Becoming the Person You Want to Be

11 Lessons for Success in Addiction Recovery

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I have worked as a counselor for more than 25 years. For 11 of those years I have worked as an Addiction Therapist. I teach on the Psychology of Addiction, but my experience is not only from my day job or my academic role.

I have had bouts of addiction to food and I have been diagnosed with clinical depression. Growing up, my father was an alcoholic. The impact of a childhood lived with a parent who is addicted to a substance can have long lasting echoes.

Addiction is personal for me. I care a great deal about people who suffer from addiction and long for freedom. What I would like to share with you is some of the lessons I have learned as a therapist who specializes in addiction and recovery. Continue reading 11 Lessons for Success in Addiction Recovery

Addiction: Why do some people become addicted, while others do not?

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Guest Blog by Dr. Helen Nasser / Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the National Institute of Health

Drinking a glass of scotch or eating a piece of cake — these are the types of behaviors many of us take enjoyment in. The vast majority indulge in these behaviors on occasion. For some of us, these behaviors become more than casual indulgences and can develop into alcoholism or overeating.

Continue reading Addiction: Why do some people become addicted, while others do not?