Planning the Future
Not long ago I had lunch with a former client, a successful young builder. Jim was brimming with health and energy. He told me that his business was doing so well that he could take time off to race cars at tracks around the country listening to him, it was hard to believe that just four short years ago Jim's life was at a standstill, bogged down by lack of motivation and mental confusion.
Jim had completed another treatment program before coming to Health Recovery Center, but no one there had told him he couldn't live on ice cream, coffee, and cigarettes. The intervening years had been miserable for him. He had resumed drinking. The more sugar and alcohol he used, the worse his cravings became. He was also subject to dramatic mood swings, complained of fatigue, and said he often felt too spacey to function. His intelligence and talent were obvious, but they were going to waste as he continued to drink.
Now the picture is quite different. Jim has been through some rough times since I first met him, including a painful divorce, but he has managed to weather it admirably. I asked him what has kept him sober over the years.
"I never knew I could feel this good," he replied. "Now that I do, I would be a fool to deliberately destroy myself by letting alcoholism take over again." Even today, Jim continues to use the recovery strategy he learned at HRC. It has served him well. It can do the same for you.
If you have been making the changes I have recommended in this book, undoubtedly you too have begun to feel healthy and energetic. To prove to yourself how far you have come in six short weeks, I would like you to retest yourself for any current symptoms by again completing Health Recovery Center's symptometer (Chart 11, Seven Weeks to Sobriety). Compare your new score with your score from Week One (Chart 3, Seven Weeks to Sobriety). The results will confirm the improvement in your health. You may still have a few lingering symptoms, but they will disappear gradually over the next few weeks or months as you follow your aftercare plan. In this section, I'll give you the strategies you'll need to maintain your sobriety and further improve your general health. And, at last, I'll review HRC's tested and effective plan for overcoming one last addiction-your dependency on nicotine. If you're still smoking, the time has come to quit!
The relapse studies cited in Chapter l of Seven Weeks to Sobriety, demonstrate that more than 75 percent of alcoholics resume drinking only a year after treatment? Those formidable odds can defeat the incentive to depend on sheer willpower. But you have at your command powerful recovery tools that will enable you to beat those odds and continue on the path to renewed energy and health.
In the pages ahead you will find a plan to follow during this first crucial year. Like your repair' program, you will need to personalize this regime to suit your individual needs. It encompasses physical, psychological, and personal-growth strategies you can use to maintain and build on the gains you have made in the past six weeks.
Physical Strategies That Heal
Your most important task during the coming months is to avoid all drugs (except those prescribed by your doctor). That most definitely includes alcohol. You must also continue to stay away from nicotine, caffeine, and over-the-counter drugs that contain alcohol (read the labels carefully). Now that your system has been cleansed of substances that sapped your health and energy, your goal is to keep it that way. The alternative is an internal toxic environment that makes you need a lilt. By now you understand that the quick fix provided by ice cream, caffeine, or cigarettes can lead to the ultimate best fix: alcohol.
I also want to remind that the one-quarter of HRC clients who relapse after completing treatment have one thing in common: they continued to smoke cigarettes. Our findings duplicate a 1978 study published in the Journal of Addictive Behavior that correlated smoking with relapse rates. Please believe me when I tell you that you must treat all of your drug dependencies simultaneously if you hope to free yourself permanently from the powerful vise of physical addiction. Years of experience has taught me that leaving just one drug in place can undo all the gains made by following the HRC treatment plan.
There is no more deadly drug than nicotine. It lolls more Americans than alcohol and all other drugs combined. Today, about 25 percent of all Americans smoke, but 83 percent of all alcoholics are smokers. The abstinent drinkers who can't manage to quit smoking are in danger of returning to alcohol. I don't want you to get caught in this trap, so let's take a look at how you're going to stop smoking once and for all.
Kicking the Cigarette Habit
Giving up cigarettes and nicotine can be done. Millions of ex-smokers have confronted this moment and forged ahead successfully. They were no stronger than you are now, and you have the advantage of a strategy that works. I've seen it succeed again and again. If you let it, it will work for you. You can't afford not to.
Set a target date to quit smoking-two weeks from today. As the date approaches, take the following steps:
- Continue to avoid caffeine, junk food, and refined sugars.
- Stick to your daily exercise program. It will help you counteract weight gain when you stop smoking.
- Cut down on cigarettes over the two-week period before your quit date. This will be easier if you take sodium/potassium b carbonate (Alka-Seltzer Gold) to alkalize your system and reduce your craving for nicotine. You can take two tablets ever four hours but no more than eight tablets in any twenty-four hour period.
- Avoid red meats, organ meats, cranberries, plums, and prune (they promote the acidity you are trying to neutralize with Alka Seltzer Gold).
- Drink at least six glasses of water a day.
Some of the nutrients you are taking will help you rid your system of nicotine and reduce your cravings. In some cases, you may have t increase your dosage slightly. Read through the following descriptions to see how the nutrients listed can help you and to determine how much you should be taking.
GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid): As you now know, GABA has a calming and centering effect. Smokers accustomed to nicotine's stress-reducing properties (it lowers reactions to outside stimuli by altering certain neurotransmitters in the brain find that GABA helps deliver the same results. An adequate source of GABA is found in the Alpha Wave formula recommended on page 196, Seven Weeks to Sobriety. If you are already taking Alpha Wave, do not duplicate the dosage. If not, take six capsules per day, two with each meal.
Glutamine: Did you know that cigarettes are up to 75 percent sugar? Tobacco is cured with beet, corn, and cane sugars. A long as these sugars are entering their bloodstreams with any regularity, hypoglycemic smokers won't be able to bring the blood sugar under control. Glutamine, an alternative source glucose, can alleviate hypoglycemic reactions among smokers.
Zinc: Smokers are usually deficient in zinc because the body uses a lot of it to remove the buildup of cadmium, a metal contained in cigarette papers (it makes them white). Increase your total zinc intake to fifty milligrams per day for six weeks.
B-complex: These vitamins can help allay the nervousness that develops as nicotine leaves the system. Cigarettes seriously deplete vitamin B1 (thiamine).
Your Diet During Recovery
Eliminating refined sugars, including alcohol, from your diet, has banished your hypoglycemic symptoms. To keep them at bay, your love affair with sugar must never be rekindled. If you succumb to the temptation of these "treats," sugar addiction will sneak back into your life, bringing with it the old fatigue and mood swings. If you avoid refined sugars for a few years, your blood sugar should return to normal and stay there. I think of the tendency toward sugar addiction as a sleeping giant. An occasional treat won't awaken it. But you must guard against zooming past occasional right back to daily. As a recovering hypoglycemic myself, I have found that I can (and do!) have an ice cream cone once a year while on vacation. I also give myself a little leeway at Christmas, but certain rules remain ironclad. I never eat chocolates or other kinds of candies, and I still only buy baked goods sweetened with fruit juice instead of refined sugars. You can find these goodies at food co-ops and in supermarket health sections.)
Less easy to cope with are the sugars in fruit salads, baked beans, and other foods you may be served by friends or find on restaurant menus. You need a strategy to politely decline or avoid these dishes. Think about your choices in advance before you open a restaurant menu. With friends, a polite but firm no thank you should do
For those of you who feel more stable on the low-carbo diet, I recommend you stay with it from one to three years. Gradually, you will be able to handle higher amounts of carbohydrates if you simply give that hair-trigger insulin response a rest for a while. We consistently see this happen, but it does not happen overnight.
One last word about fats and sugars. The French, who smoke a lot of cigarettes and eat four times the fat that Americans do, have less than half our death rate from heart disease! The reason for their low mortality rate is that they eat 70 percent less sugar per person than Americans eat! It is sugar-not fat-that is the main contributor to our number-one killer, heart disease. Because hypoglycemics crave sugar, their risk for cardiac death is even greater. Remember, fats and proteins take away carbohydrate cravings, so they are your wiser choices.
The Rewards of Exercise
Your exercise program can boost your self-esteem and enhance your energy. Alcoholic or not, regular exercise offers many rewards:
- You will find it easier to cope with stress.
- You will look more radiant, move more gracefully, stand taller, and look more youthful.
- You will burn calories faster and look trimmer.
- You will relieve tension and banish mild down moods.
- Your body and mind will function better: the aging process will slow as your heart and lung function, digestion, and elimination improve, and your immune system will become stronger, and your joints, more flexible.
Designing Your Exercise Program
The best exercise plan is one you can stick to. It does not have to be strenuous. One-half hour of brisk walking, biking, or swimming at least four times a week is all you need. However, if you have any athletic inclination, you may find that you want more exercise.
The usual excuse for not exercising is lack of time. Well, exercising need not take time out of your day. I work out at home on my trampoline or exercise bike while I watch television. I prefer not leaving home to exercise, but many people need the motivation a group provides. So design your own plan, join a gym, or enroll in an aerobics class. But whatever you do, make sure it is convenient, so that you'll participate on a regular basis.
Most recovering alcoholics find that they have a lot of time on their hands, time they used to spend drinking. An exercise program can fit right in.
Your Maintenance Nutrient Program
During the last week of the HRC program, clients begin to ask how long they have to take all those vitamins. Or they complain that they can't afford to keep replacing their nutrients. Or they tell me that they love the way one particular nutrient makes them feel but that they no longer need all the rest.
At this point, they are feeling great. As the program ends, some of our clients think they can think they can walk on water and their continued sobriety is assured. True, many biochemical improvements are under way, but the change is not yet complete. It is an evolving process that, over time, will yield a very high level of health. But at this point we caution you that your new lifestyle is still tenuous. You have not yet finished building the strong habits that guarantee long term success. It would be foolish to abandon your nutrient program now. You need a scaled-down maintenance plan to carry you through the next months.
Your HRC aftercare plan should also include any of the specific repair formulas you have been using. Continue to take them at the doses recommended for 3 more months. Then discontinue for 3 weeks to see how you feel. If any symptoms return, resume taking the formula for another 3 months and then stop again to determine if you need further treatment.
Use chart 12 in your book, Seven Weeks to Sobriety to add these formulas to your maintenance list. Remember to add up the amounts of each nutrient you take. Consult the tables in Chapter 9 to determine the safe maximum amount of all vitamins and minerals. Do not exceed the therapeutic dose recommended.
Psychological Strategies That Work
Until now, most tools suggested in Seven Weeks to Sobriety have been designed to help you avoid primary physical cravings for alcohol. But there are secondary psychological triggers that can and will sabotage you if you let them. These secondary triggers arise from outside, not inside the body A few examples:
- Spending time with drinking buddies
- Sudden stress (such as a fight with your spouse)
- Financial setbacks
- Permission-giving self talk: "I feel so good I think I could handle a few drinks now"
- Parties or social gatherings where alcohol is served
- Intense negative emotions such as self-pity, anger, or fear
To help you avoid these emotional pitfalls, I am going to provide you with the most powerful weapons I have discovered during my eighteen years in this field.
Build Yourself a Support System
You are not the first alcoholic to wrestle with the temptation to drink again. Others have won the battle with successful strategies you can and should adopt to help you through the years ahead. Friends who understand your needs and your pain can be an enormous help. You can also find the support you need through Alcoholics Anonymous or Women for Sobriety, both of which have groups in most communities. I cannot overemphasize the importance of these invaluable human resources. Nowhere else can you find others who have a gut-level understanding and appreciation of what you have been through. They are waiting for your call. Make it today.
Throughout this Seven Weeks to Sobriety Dr. Mathews Larson explains repeatedly what therapy can-not do for recovering alcoholics. Therapy cannot repair your alcohol-altered brain and nervous system or banish the depression, unstable moods, and cravings that stem from the biochemical changes alcohol brings about. But therapy can help you with a number of painful problems. Such serious emotional issues as childhood incest or physical/emotional abuse by your mate demand attention. Without help, emotional problems can drive you to drink again to cover up the pain. Don't risk relapse by neglecting emotion-charged issues.
Your first step in this direction will be to find the right therapist. This is not as simple as it sounds. I believe you will benefit most rapidly by working with someone who uses rational-emotive (cognitive) therapy. This approach focuses on current choices rather than past failures. Within this psychological framework, you'll learn how to deal effectively with your anger, self-hate, fear, worry, emotional stress, and assertiveness.
If you have financial problems, don't assume that you can't afford therapy In most areas, United Way organizations (such as Family and Children's Services) can arrange for treatment on a sliding reimbursement scale based on your ability to pay.
Create a Circle of Sober Friends
The cruelest advice counselors must dispense concerns some of the most important people in your life, your drinking buddies. Often, they are your only friends, and you find yourself in a no-win situation: if you socialize with drinkers, eventually you will drink. On the other hand, life without friends is lonely and can bring on self-pity that can drive you to drink. The solution is to seek out social activities with any and all sober acquaintances and relatives who appeal to you. Look for them at work, in your neighborhood, church circle, classes. As you contemplate new friendships, your self talk may be negative: "Not at my age" or "Who wants my company?" Remember that each of us suffers from some degree of self-hatred. We all tell ourselves, "I'm not good enough." The reality is that most people will welcome your friendship. If you doubt that, consider your own receptivity to new acquaintances. Few of us willingly pass up the opportunity to make a new friend. To protect your sobriety, it is essential that you find and cultivate people you like who live a sober life and know how to enjoy themselves.
Involving Loved Ones in Recovery
If you have a mate who will accompany you on your journey to recovery, you are fortunate indeed. Cooperation at home can make all the difference between successful and unsuccessful recovery. Rifts and hurt feelings can persist unless your mate comes to understand alcoholism as a disease that alters brain chemistry and causes unacceptable but not intentional behavior. In a traditional treatment approach, the families of patients gather to voice their pain and heap their resentment on the alcoholic. Can you imagine relatives of patients with diabetes or cancer meeting that way? It would be regarded as inhumane, unthinkable. Families need to understand the true nature of alcohol addiction so that time together can be used for healing, not accusations. See Appendix B, Seven Weeks to Sobriety for a list of books that can help you all make progress in this direction.
Ideally, your spouse and children will choose to share your basic diet. Giving up junk foods, additives, and refined sugars will be good for the whole family. Sharing your B-complex vitamins will provide your overstressed mate with the same calming effect you now enjoy.
Codependency: Fact or Fiction?
The codependency concept holds that mates of alcoholics are equally to blame for their spouses alcoholic" behavior and are guilty of "enabling" their drinking by covering up to children, employers, bankers, creditors. In light of what we now know about the genetic basis of alcoholism and the physical toll it takes on its victims, feeling responsible for your mate's alcoholism becomes absurd. Anyone who has lived with an alcoholic soon comes to understand how powerless he or she is to stop alcoholic behavior. A spouse need not take on the additional burden of guilt for a mate's illness. Women especially have been all too willing to accept a share of the "blame" for alcoholism. To such "codependents," I suggest that it is not difficult to see who the sick member of the family is. The mate brings strength, not weakness, to the relationship. Adding this strength to the recovery strategies presented in this book vastly enhances the alcoholic's prospects for regaining sobriety and physical and emotional health.
Personal-Growth Strategies That Work
People who stop drinking have a lot of time on their hands. Some react with boredom and listlessness. NOT YOU! Being wiser, you'll look upon this precious commodity as a gift and use it to invest in your future happiness On the medallion we present to each HRC graduate is the motto "Total Recovery: Mind, Body, Spirit." Each side of the triangle represents an essential aspect of our humanity. To neglect any of the three can jeopardize your recovery.
"I Don't Need Religion, Thank You"
That is what I hear from many HRC clients when I inquire about spiritual needs. I tell them that spirituality is not necessarily religious belief. It is an awareness of a center within that sustains us and gives us the strength to conquer our insecurities. AA members describe this spirituality as "God as you have come to know Him." To some, this may be limited to communing with nature in a woodsy setting; to others, it is an awareness of an inner core--"God," if you will-that defines us and, despite our frailties, enables us to perceive our true natures. It is no accident that most HRC clients who proclaim at the outset that they have no spirituality find that by Week Six they have stirred the ashes of their deeper selves. My personal belief is that the physical and emotional damage alcoholism causes pulls down all sorts of wires in the mind, making communication with our higher selves impossible. With healing, the wires are repaired and the signals again transmit.
It would be foolhardy for me to give you more than general directions toward spiritual nourishment. In this respect, each of us follows an individual path. But I can pass along strategies for building spiritual health that HRC clients have chosen for themselves:
- Setting aside time for daily meditation
- Reading inspirational books
- Seeking a friendly faith community
- Attending religious services
- Taking time off for a retreat in a peaceful setting
- Forgiving others, sharing love with others
Often Health Recovery Center clients tell us that previous counselors have advised them to cut themselves off from parents who mistreated them as children. Although that may be possible physically, it is nearly impossible to sever spiritual and emotional bonds with parents. if one or both of your parents was actively alcoholic when you were growing up, you may have a lot of painful memories. Not many illnesses destroy sanity as dramatically as alcoholism. Now that you understand the effects of this disease, you can see your parent's behavior in light of the unstable brain chemistry alcoholism promotes.
At Health Recovery Center, we encourage clients to renew relationships with parents whenever possible in order to knock down walls built over the years. Sharing your love with others is a precious spiritual experience. Don't be afraid to tell those dear to you that you love them.
- Do you depend on your mate for good feelings? Do your moods alter according to your mate's moods? Has your sense of self-worth diminished?
- Does most of your life revolve around trying to please your mate? Are you afraid that making waves will cost you the relationship?
- Do you feel an obsessive need to possess your mate's affections in order to define yourself as a worthwhile human being?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, the relationship is not healthy and is not likely to bring you lasting happiness. Under these circumstances, put your sobriety first and get off the emotional roller coaster as fast as possible. The tormented feelings these relationships engender have nothing to do with real love. Despite your unreasonable fixation with the person, nothing of value will be lost if you walk away.
A Long-Range Plan
To newly recovering alcoholics, life's daily challenges can be so painful that long-term goals can easily be pushed aside. At the Health Recovery Center, we encourage clients to think ahead and set their sights on goats they may have abandoned years ago. One technique that works more often than you might suspect is keeping a diary of your thoughts. Use it to put your hopes and dreams in writing and converse honestly with yourself about the direction of your life. Over time, you should find that certain themes keep recurring. Your focus on your future will become clearer, and you can begin to plan how to get from here to there. Bear in mind that most long-range goals are met not by big leaps but by small steps that slowly but surely bring you closer and closer to your destination. The secret is mental perseverance. Name your dreams and then hang on to them.
To affirm your plans for the future, use Chart 13, Seven Weeks to Sobriety to outline your personal aftercare plan. As you put it into effect, day by day, remember that your goal is improvement, not perfection.
The principal cause of alcoholic relapse can be summed up in one word: cravings. Earlier in this chapter I discussed primary and secondary addictive desires and the factors that can trigger them. In these closing pages I want to reemphasize and summarize them. If you take nothing else away from this book, please bear in mind the triggers that can fire your craving for alcohol.
A primary need to drink is an intense, nearly unavoidable, involuntary urge. It can be set off by a hypoglycemic drop in glucose, by food or chemical sensitivities, or by poor nutritional habits. Prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, caffeine, and nicotine can trigger cravings. For comfortable sobriety you must avoid refined sugar, white flour, processed and convenience foods, and, if you are allergic, those foods that elicit reactions. Frequent small meals, rest, and exercise as well as nutritional supplements will provide your body with the strength to deal with unwanted stress and support the healing process.
Secondary triggers are situations associated with your drinking behavior of the past. Restaurants, parties, and any other settings where you formerly used alcohol can cue you to drink. So can in-tense negative emotions-anger, self-pity, depression, and fear. The tools of rational-emotive therapy (see Appendix B for suggested books) can help you establish new perceptions and methods of self-direction. The support system you construct-a sponsor, AA, sober friends, recreation, rewarding work-are essential for recovery and will protect and nurture you as you heal physically. Eroding this safe lifestyle by abandoning the tools you have learned will leave you without protection. It is then only a matter of time before alcoholism reclaims you. If you do stumble down that road someday, remember that you still have, between the covers of this book, a map that will guide you back to safe ground. Sobriety is a lifelong commitment, and it takes time for new habits to become second nature. Your after-care plan is actually a checklist of relapse-prevention strategies. Review it often and follow it faithfully.
Total Repair: Treatment Model of the Future
What you will learned from this book, Seven Weeks to Sobriety, represents the early stages of a new and remarkable approach to the treatment of alcoholism. As I write, the search for more biochemical knowledge to help combat this deadly disease is accelerating. Each year, scientists learn more, and each year we make more breakthroughs toward finding the causes and cures for addiction.
I am confident that in the years to come the recovery program described in this book will be the rule rather than the exception in the treatment of alcoholism. Experience has taught me that the HRC plan is the most realistic and dependable recovery strategy available today. I have seen it work for more than ten years. By now, I hope you have come to understand and appreciate the foundation of knowledge upon which it is based. If you have not yet embarked on your treatment plan, I urge you to begin today. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain on your breakthrough journey to health and sobriety. I know you can recover. Now you must discover for yourself how effective this program can be. Godspeed.
Additional information on formula schedules and optimal doses to achieve biochemical restoration/repair can be found in the book Seven Weeks to Sobriety.
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