Rise Recovery’s Blog

I want to be a pumpkin cleaner

A Poem by Natalie Hope Mosqueda


Age 1 – The world is my oyster and I am here to eat it.

3 – I want to be a pumpkin cleaner, but only the insides, because the outsides are gross.

6 – I have all the art I made that year and I am so proud. I am an artist. But it is raining and mommy doesn’t come to pick me up. By the time I make it home to find her passed out on the couch, my art is ruined. And I am nothing.

7 – The car broke down before we even made it out of Oregon. Even the car knows leaving is a bad idea.

8 – The teachers tell me I am special. But, the other kids tell me it’s not the special I think it means. I twirl my ABC’s in a plate of sugar. It is so sweet. Yet, I am in the 3rd grade and still get lost by the time I make it to the letter E.

10 – I feel sad. And not the kind of sad where your best friend doesn’t text you back. I am the kind of sad where getting out of bed feels like you are jumping out of plane knowing you do not have your parachute.

12 – I get a suitcase. This suitcase is not for happy family vacations. This suitcase is to lug my life from one side of the planet to another. But in reality, we are going five minutes down the road. I love you mom, I will see you next week.

13 – The drugs are not working, the alcohols not working, nothing is working. I will see you next time you come to visit me in these sterile white walls.

15 – They say a closet drinker is someone who drinks alone, but I am literally drinking in a closet.

16 – I am greeted by an empty room. Where is my bed? Where are my clothes? Where is my life going? The bathtub fills with blood. And instead of seeing the face of God, I see the back seat of a cop car.

16 – I have a breakdown in front of the school. I will see you next time you come to visit me in these sterile white walls.

16 – I begin to pick up pieces of my life from the rubble and put them together like a jigsaw puzzle.

16 – I want to be a pumpkin cleaner. But only the insides, because the outsides can be primped and pressed and the inside is where the real work happens.


My story doesn’t end at 16. At 16 I was broken, alone, and afraid. And my parents were also broken, alone, and afraid. I was shipped off to rehab for 4 months, and when I came home it became a game of what will Natalie do next. I was going to 12-step meetings with people double my age, and couldn’t relate. Everyone was getting married, and I was just trying to finish high school. A girl told me about Rise Recovery, so I went and checked it out. The first thing I noticed was kids my age full of hope, full of love, and full of recovery. I took this program and ran with it. I quickly became a volunteer, a college student, and a productive member of society. Thanks to Rise Recovery, I am 21 years old and celebrating 5 years of sobriety.

 Age 3

Age 16

Age 21

Rise Recovery joins Bexar County/San Antonio’s Opioid Task Force

By Evita Morin

Rise Recovery joined Mayor Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Wolff at the first meeting of Bexar County/San Antonio’s Opioid Task Force. The task force brings together public health experts, medical and pharmaceutical professionals, first responders, policymakers, educators and social service agencies. Texas is currently in the top 5 states for the total number of opioid related deaths. Texas has the 2nd highest opioid abuse related health care costs totally over $1.9 billion. Opioid-related overdose deaths in Bexar County exceed the national average. Texas heroin use is 2 to 4 times the national rate in teens. Texas has seen a 60% increase over 5 years of newborns dependent on opioids experiencing withdrawal symptoms. 1/3 of Texas newborns suffering from opioid withdrawal are in Bexar County. As a member of the task force, Rise Recovery is committed to helping develop strategic actions that address the national rise in opioid overdose and newborns dependent on opioids locally.

Top 10 Ways to Practice Self-Care

By Michelli Ramon

Self-care is a good thing, there’s no arguing that. But like many good things, the spirit of its intent is sometimes warped by unrealistic expectations and our tendencies to perfect and compare. In my own life, self-care began to feel like one more thing I couldn’t get to and anytime anyone asked me about my self-care regiment I would shrink from fear of judgment. Recently, a new perspective has occurred to me – a way of thinking about self-care that is radically different from the way I’d been thinking about it. The truth for me has become this – self-care is not something I must do every day, it’s something I can believe in. It is a state of mind and faith in a Higher Power that is set up to support me whether I have time for it or now. I offer you these 10 tips for deepening your everyday self-care frame of mind.

10. Stop beating yourself up about not doing self-care.
9. Think of self-care as a mindset, rather than something you have to do.
8. Make a decision to believe in a Universe that is set up to support you.
7. Accept small moments as self-care gifts from your Higher Power.
6. Smile at a stranger.
5. Take a longer than normal shower.
4. Get a car wash.
3. Have dessert.
2. Ask someone to pray for you.
1. Rock out to your favorite song in the car.

4 Tips to Help Love Ones Stay Sober on New Year’s

The holiday season is full of celebrations – and in many cases indulgences of food and alcohol – especially on New Year’s Eve. But, for many people in early recovery, those occasions present temptations that can derail progress.

While avoiding parties with alcohol and drugs is a smart choice for those in early recovery, it is not good for them to spend the evening alone. The holiday season brings on depression for many people and staying home alone on New Year’s Eve can make it even worse or lead to a relapse.

If you want to help those in recovery, reach out to provide support and companionship during the holiday week. Many teen girls and young women would enjoy going out to a coffee shop where you could talk about what they are grateful for and their hopes and dreams for the future. Young men might prefer doing something active like going on a hike or to a skate board park.

For families in recovery, set aside some time to talk about creating new substance-free traditions and come up with a plan to do something fun on New Year’s Eve and meaningful on New Year’s Day like a service work. Many charities need volunteers on the holidays. Homeless people need to eat, dog kennels need to be cleaned and babies need to be rocked so you can take this on as a new tradition. Doing so will help everyone gain a stronger sense of purpose.

If you are the one in recovery and are alone, don’t wait for someone to invite you somewhere. Do some research and develop a plan for how you are going to spend the evening substance free.

Whether you are in recovery or want to support your loved ones, here are four substance-free ideas for all ages to make New Year’s celebrations positive and encouraging.

  1. Host a substance-free event for those in recovery or just for your family. Talk with your family about what would make it a fun evening. Some may like playing games. Others might prefer to watch a movie with popcorn and their favorite candy. Top the evening off by toasting with non-alcoholic beverages such as grape juice and ginger ale or Cranberry Sprite.
  2. Attend a fireworks show. Amusement parks such as Seaworld and Fiesta Texas host fireworks shows to bring in the new year.
  3. Go to a midnight mass or prayer vigil. For those who are serious about starting the year out on a good foot, attending a church service can be very grounding and meaningful.
  4. Last and probably the most fun in our opinion, hang out at your local recovery center. Many recovery centers offer daily meetings and a special party on New Year’s Eve. The Rise Recovery New Year’s Eve Hoopla is open to the entire family and guarantees lots of laughter without the hangover.

We hope these ideas help you and your loved ones start the new year with no regret and a victorious high that lasts all year long.


The 12 Steps of Recovery

12 Steps

By George Block

Every coach who wants to build a winning culture knows that getting life lessons right is the foundation for getting the next thing in practice right.  In sports – and in business, science, politics, you name it – culture eats strategy for lunch.  Some of the best coaching tools for building team culture and teaching life lessons are the 12 Steps of Recovery.

The life lessons coaches teach go far beyond these steps, but the wisdom in these steps are wonderful tools that every young person should have in their life’s tool box.   They may also be especially applicable to adolescence.  A coach’s interpretation might look like this.

Step 1: I admitted that I am powerless and my life has become unmanageable.  This is the situation when many adolescents come in to your office or ask to talk after practice.  They feel out of control.  They are overwhelmed by the multiple demands and pressures put on them.

Simply admitting that is both painful and powerful for a young person.  They are so busy fighting for power and independence that admitting they are powerless and out of control names the problem and frees them to look at it dispassionately.

Step 2: I came to believe that a Power greater than me could restore me to sanity.  Every coach plays Copernicus at some point.  Copernicus challenged the theory that the universe revolved around the earth and showed that the earth (and her sister planets) revolved around the sun.

One of the definitions of adolescence is that their entire world revolves around them.  It falls upon coaches to disabuse them of this notion.  We point out that the universe does not in fact revolve around them.

Step 3: I made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God, as I understood Him.  Teens can be incredibly willful – much like 2-year olds.  It is a part of their drive to control what can’t be controlled.  The 12 Steps ask its adherents to turn their lives over to God, but before a young person can do that, they may have to experience giving up control in small parts of their lives.

Surrender is a scary and powerful experience.  It is the foundational risk of falling in love.  It is also the foundational risk of real mastery in any discipline – sports, music, the arts, the martial arts, dance, the sciences, spirituality.  We must surrender ourselves to a trusted master.  We must give that master control over that part of our lives.  Once a child learns the daring free-fall of surrender to mastery, the adult can experience the much greater surrenders of real love and spirituality.

Step 4: I made a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself.  There is a saying among swimming coaches that the swimmer swims the way they live.  When their young lives are a mess, their training and competitions are a mess.  When their lives are well ordered, so is their training and competition.

The great Olympic coach, Mark Schubert, once told me that he never coached an Olympic Gold Medalist who didn’t have a great training partner.  Even the ultimate individual sport requires a great teammate and you can’t have a great teammate without being one.

Step 5: I admitted to God, myself and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.  These were some of the most powerful, draining and often surprising days in my coaching career.  An athlete would come in to my office, shut the door and “unburden” him or herself.

I was never ready for this “confessional” role, but I realized the strength and courage that athlete was demonstrating and the incredible trust that was being placed in me.  I was that other human being.

Often kids think that they have to be perfect in order to be good.  As coaches, our role is to explain the power of “Oops, I’m sorry,” because none of us is perfect or even close.  The best we can hope for is to become excellent apologizers.

Steps 6 & 7: I was ready to have God remove these defects of character and I humbly asked Him to remove these shortcomings.  Humility is one of the greatest gifts a young person can receive.  It transforms that person in to a magnet for those around him or her and allows that young person to become a leader.

The flaws we see when we look deeply in to ourselves are just as important as the talents (gifts) that the young athlete is nurturing.  Our gifts can make us great, but our flaws can keep us humble and there can be no greatness without humility.

Coaches teach young athletes that they have the tools they need to nurture their (God-given) garden, constantly pruning the weeds and fertilizing their gifts.  Both have to be done constantly.  Strengths and humility have to be cultivated side-by-side.

Steps 8 & 9: I made a list of all the people I had harmed and made direct amends to them all, if possible.  Fortunately, at this age the damages done can also be undone relatively simply.  One of the most common forms of adolescent damage is gossip – “badmouthing” my swimmers used to call it.

Gossip – locker room talk – is one of the most damaging things that can take place inside ANY organization: a business, a family, or a team.  Gossip can kill a team.

Since the gossip was usually done in a group, the amends must be made in a group.  All the teammates who heard the gossip must hear both the truth and the apology.  I can’t remember a time when a teammate publicly apologized for “badmouthing” that another teammate didn’t join him or her in an additional, unsolicited, apology.  Confession – and forgiveness – became contagious.

Teammates learned that it is a good thing to talk TO people, just never ABOUT them.

Step 10: I developed the discipline of continual personal inventory and when I was wrong, I quickly apologized.  This was perhaps the most interesting and difficult step for most adolescents.  Where they (and I) were most frequently “wrong” was when our teammates were trying to redirect us to the better path.

Learning to say “Thank you” when being redirected was difficult.  Defensiveness and confrontation were often the first instincts.  Our egos needed protection.  We had to learn to say “I’m sorry,” before we could learn to say “Thank you.”

Step 11: I sought through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God, as I understood Him, praying only for understanding and the strength to act on that understanding.  The faith traditions of the kids I coached mirrored San Antonio:  nearly every Christian denomination, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics and atheists.  What they all seemed to have in common was a belief in some creative power.  They shared a sense of “createdness.”

This allowed them to see their athletic, academic and artistic talents as gifts that they had an obligation to nurture.  They weren’t given great intellects just to sit in front of a TV.  They weren’t given physical gifts to waste them with skipped practices or minimal efforts.  They all sensed a sacred obligation to maximize their gifts. That was often a difficult burden.  They frequently wished they hadn’t been so “blessed.”

Step 12: Having had this awakening as a result of these steps, I tried to carry this message to my teammates and to use these principles in everything I do.  Leadership.  Isn’t that what we are all trying to teach our kids?  No team (or business, or nation) can be better than its leaders.  Our teams live and die on locker room leadership.  Step 12 is taking leadership and turning it in to culture.

As soon as your team leaders take their leadership outside the pool, field or court, in to their daily lives, your team culture is being built and strengthened.  Every independent action that team members take, outside the athletic environment, builds culture.

The 12 Step process is the most demanding and successful addiction recovery process in history, but it could be so much more.  It’s time to free the 12 Steps from the confines of addiction recovery and teach kids how to use these powerful principles in their daily lives.

4 Tips to Manage Stress & Improve Recovery Success

By Trish Frye

Trish Frye, Program Director
Trish Frye

Seems these days I hear a lot about stress. Given that recovery is always a stressful time, it is important to pay special attention to stress levels and be mindful of the way we are managing them. Dr. Kevin McCauley states that “the primary cause of addiction is chronic and severe stress that changes the mid-brain. This sort of stress becomes a threat and the brain searches for relief by seeking out pleasure.” Dr. Robert Dupont points out that “the most profound effect of dependence producing drugs is pleasure. Any substance that produces pleasure can produce dependency.” Stress is our body’s way of responding to demands. It can be caused by both good and bad situations and not all stress is bad. When we feel stress, our bodies produce a combination of cortisol and adrenalin. These stress hormones help to give us more energy and strength, which helps if we are in danger or need to feel better. However, if we are in emotional stress and have no way of releasing it, this energy can become bothersome and cause other issues i.e., lowered immunity system, high blood pressure, cancer, poor memory, headaches, anxiety, behavioral issues and substance abuse to name a few. Essentially if not dealt with, stress will cause stress…and left unattended can trigger relapse or a transgression into old behaviors and survival skills. A recent study conducted by Rajita Sinha, director of the Yale Stress Center in New Haven, CT. found that the odds of relapse increase two-and-a-half times in people who had elevated levels of stress hormones.

So how do we cope with stress in recovery? STOP! This is an acronym I created as a reminder of some very important life and stress management tools:

S—STEPS : In the 12 Step program the first Step asks me to identify my limits… essentially to recognize what I can and cannot change. Often just recognizing the situation for what it is and knowing we are powerless helps to bring relief; accepting powerlessness is not shirking responsibility. Accepting powerlessness allows us to respond to our circumstances rather than react, and in response, we are able to take action while letting go of the results. The Steps can be applied to any situation as a way to cope. They are not exclusive to addiction. In PDAP the program titles their modified 12 Steps as “The 12 Steps to Life Love and Happiness”. The first Step of admitting powerlessness opens the door to accessing solution.

T—TODAY: This concept is about doing the next right thing, right now and not worrying about the future. Doing the best we can today with what we have rather than becoming overwhelmed with what HAS to get done or “WHAT IF.” Staying in the now helps us to not pile on anxiety in an already stressful circumstance. “Just for right now I can do the next right thing.”

O—OPPOSITE: Generally when stressed out, if we can stop and scan ourselves we will find that we are running on an “internal autobahn.” Our thinking is rushed and overwhelmed, our bodies are tense and we are holding our breath to a degree (shallow breathing). I do the opposite. I STOP and take a breath. Allow my mind to pause. Roll my shoulders and neck. Loosen my grip and then breathe. Take three deep cleansing breaths; am mindful and purposeful in these breaths. I slowly breathe in through my nose and blow out my mouth. If my brain does not think it is getting enough oxygen, stress hormone is released. It is amazing what happens when blood oxygen levels go up! Heart rates slow down and our minds begin to clear. I repeat my stress-releasing exercises again, if necessary. After all, if anything is going to get better “breathing is required.”

P—PRACTICE and PATIENCE: In any circumstance change is almost always uncomfortable. Habitually we will want to fall back and rely on the same old coping skills (which probably don’t work anymore). Creating new habits of working the steps, living in the now and being in our bodies rather than in our problems will take time. In the program we say “progress not perfection,” so I don’t get stressed out if this new way of stress free living doesn’t come quickly. In active addiction, we live a life that is about “feel good now” but in recovery we exchange short-term pain for long-term happiness. Stress and anxiety are inevitable parts of life; it is possible, however, to avoid relapse and enhance life utilizing the tools of recovery. Anyone can quit using drugs (or sex or gambling or control etc.) for a period of time. It is learning to live that way – life on life’s terms, that matters. In recovery we can do just that, while experiencing a reasonable level of happiness, joy and freedom…without consequences.

Rise Recovery’s Recommended Reading List

When The Servant Becomes the Master by Jason Z W Powers, MD

“The definitive guide to addiction that addresses misinformation and stigma, humanizes the disease within a framework of science, research, and personal experience, and provides a wealth of information on the various forms addiction takes as well as rich data regarding treatments.”

Why Don’t They Just Quit? by Joe Herzanek

Real-life solutions to help you now! Watching a loved one immersed in an intense battle with alcohol and drug abuse may be the most difficult, complex and harrowing experience you’ll ever have. This audio book offers a message of hope to families and friends, giving practical solutions so they can help anyone struggling with addiction to begin the road to recovery. ”

Love First by Jeff and Debra Jay

“This revised and expanded edition of the most popular and effective book on intervention features enhanced tools and techniques to help loved ones face addiction. A standard-setting book on intervention, Love First has helped tens of thousands of families, friends, and professionals create a loving and effective plan for helping those who suffer from addiction. This revised and expanded edition adds to the core material in this classic book with the most up-to-date scientific information and new intervention techniques for alcohol and other drug addictions–and an array of disorders.”

No More Letting Go by Debra Jay

““Detachment” has been the standard message of most addiction literature for the last twenty years. The conventional wisdom offered to an addict’s loved ones has been to let the addict “hit bottom” before intervening. Now intervention specialist Debra Jay challenges this belief and offers a bold new approach to treating addiction that provides a practical and spiritual lifeline to families struggling with alcohol or drug abuse.”

At Wit’s End by Jeff Jay and Jerry Borishkin PhD

“A must-read for families seeking answers about a loved one’s co-occurring disorder. “My mother has become forgetful and seems especially sad lately. I know she takes too much pain medication. Where can I find help for her?” “My teenage son has hallucinations. I think he’s depressed. He sees a psychiatrist and takes medication, but he doesn’t seem to be getting better. What can I do?” “My wife is euphoric one day and suicidal the next. Her doctor told her to stop drinking while she’s taking antidepressant medication, but she hasn’t stopped. How do I intervene?” Families at wit’s end about a loved one’s co-occurring psychiatric and addictive problems will find vital information—and inspiration— in this important guide. As the authors explain, when psychiatric and addictive disorders travel together, they cause confusion among family members and even misdiagnoses for patients. Here, families learn how psychiatric diagnoses mimic addictive disorders, why chemical use exacerbates psychiatric problems, what various treatment approaches offer, and when intervention is needed. Real-life stories throughout the book offer hope, illustrating that people do recover from co-occurring disorders and that families do heal.”

It Takes a Family by Debra Jay

“Counselor and interventionist Debra Jay shows alcoholics, other addicts, and their loved ones how to work collaboratively and as individuals to take on the roles and responsibilities that support long-term sobriety
Counselor and interventionist Debra Jay shows alcoholics, other addicts, and their loved ones how to work collaboratively and as individuals to take on the roles and responsibilities that support long-term sobriety. Most books on recovery from addiction focus either on the addict or the family. While most alcoholics and addicts coming out of treatment have a recovery plan, families are often left to figure things out for themselves. In It Takes a Family, Debra Jay takes a fresh approach to the recovery process by making family members and friends part of the recovery team, beginning in the early stages of sobriety.In straightforward, compassionate language, she outlines a structured model that shows family members both how to take personal responsibility and to build a circle of support to meet the obstacles common to the first year of recovery. Together, family members address the challenges of enabling, denial, and pain while developing their communication skills through practical, easy-to-follow strategies and exercises designed to create transparency and accountability. With this invaluable guide, family members work together as they reinvent their relationships without the all-consuming dysfunction of active addiction.”

Choices and Consequences by Dick Schaefer

“Choices and Consequences describes the step-by-step process of intervention to stop a teenager’s harmful involvement with chemicals. Alcohol and other drug use among teenagers is epidemic.Children as young as grade-school age are experimenting with mood-altering substances.One out of every four high school students drink to excess when they drink.Many teenagers are abusing alcohol and other drugs–and many will die prematurely if they don’t get help.\ Choices & Consequences tells you precisely how you can help. Written for parents, teachers, family doctors, mental health professionals, school guidance counselors, social workers, juvenile justice workers, clergy, and anyone else who cares about teenagers, it describes a step-by-step process called intervention that you can use to stop a teenager’s harmful involvement with chemicals. If you’re worried about kids and alcohol or other drugs, you can do something. And you can start today with Choices and Consequences.”

First Aid For Enablers by Dr. David Curry

“A starter guide to developing healthy boundaries with the addict in your life, First Aid for Enablers will help you understand how easy it is to become part of the support system of addiction that enables addicts to survive while their world is crumbling around them. In addition, you’ll learn the life-saving treatments which you will need to build a healthy emotional life, cope with the addict’s chaotic behavior and build a network of support that will encourage the addict to get free from the substances that are destroying him…and creating chaos for you.”

Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children by Allison Bottke

“This important and compassionate new book from the creator of the successful God Allows U-Turns series will help parents and grandparents of the many adult children who continue to make life painful for their loved ones. Writing from firsthand experience, Allison identifies the lies that kept her, and ultimately her son in bondage―and how she overcame them. Additional real life stories from other parents are woven through the text. A tough–love book to help readers cope with dysfunctional adult children, Setting Boundaries® with Your Adult Children will empower families by offering hope and healing through S.A.N.I.T.Y.―a six–step program to help parents regain control in their homes and in their lives. S = STOP Enabling, STOP Blaming Yourself, and STOP the Flow of Money A = Assemble a Support Group N = Nip Excuses in the Bud I = Implement Rules/Boundaries T = Trust Your Instincts Y = Yield Everything to God”

Addiction Recovery: A Family’s Journey by Diana Clark, JD, MA

“Addiction can be a launching pad. Healing brings addicts and alcoholics closer to living life with integrity and self-reflection and in service to others. This journey from addict or alcoholic to fully functional adult is called recovery. Simply defined, recovery is the practice of behavioral, psychological and spiritual changes, beginning with abstinence, that encourage (and reflect) a healthy life. Your addicted loved one’s progression from active addiction to recovery and his success in long-term recovery will almost always involve you. And, just as your loved one needs a path toward healing, you need a path for your journey, which will take you from denial, protecting, and codependent behavior, and the underlying fear, to surrender, forgiveness, self-care, purpose, and meaning, and, ultimately, to gratitude for the gifts of your journey. This kind of change does not happen overnight. This book maps out a path for your journey. Although the journey may feel long and will be painful at points, you may well find joy and peace at the end of it. And, even during the journey, you might find a spark for starting to live with joy and peace.”

Soaring Above Co-Addiction by Lisa Espich

“In Soaring Above Co-Addiction, the author shares her own experience of overcoming codependency by utilizing tools such as affirmations and visualization. In this memoir-style self-help book, the reader learns all of the traditional methods of recovery, like detachment and tough love, while also learning to master the power of the mind. This book goes beyond teaching the tools of recovery – it shows readers how to create the life of their dreams.”

Getting Them Sober by Toby Rice Drews

“”While the alcoholic lies passed out, anesthetized, the family goes through the years of his drinking – stark, raving sober. Their world is like no sane family’s world. They believe lies, expect miracles, have him locked up, bail him out, wish he were dead, and pray that he gets home safely.” “If the spouse of the alcoholic changes his or her behavior, as outlined in this book, the alcoholic has an 80 percent better chance to get sober.” – from the Introduction”

Reclaim Your Life by Carole Bennett, MA

“In the United States alone, more than 22 million people are addicted to alcohol and other drugs, for every individual with this disposition, there are four or more family members or friends directly involved with their loved one s substance abuse issues. Reclaim Your Life: You and the Alcoholic/Addict was written for the millions of people who struggle with the heartache, frustration, confusion, and resentment, and who urgently seek help as they navigate the murky waters of addiction. This reader-friendly guide teaches specific communication tools that empower you to implement confident boundaries. Reclaiming your respect, dignity, and peace of mind are achievable goals through the theories, concepts, and case studies this book offers. The is Bennett’s first book, her second book Is there a Dry Drunk in your life? was released in May 2015 and as with Reclaim your Life, is available in Print and Kindle”

Families and Addiction by Robert, Margaret and Patrick Brown

“The authors wrote this book for one purpose: to teach family members and friends of people with substance abuse issues a specific set of skills that will help them survive the stress loving an addict creates in their lives. The authors share with the reader ways to deal with the fear, anger, helplessness, and the conflict they may experience in their attempts to both help the addicted family member and protect themselves from them as well. Most books in this genre focus on how to “fix” the addict. They assume that getting the addict into a treatment program is the final solution to the problem. The authors of this book know from experience that there is no quick fix for addiction. Recovery from addiction is a lifelong project. For this reason, this book focuses on (1) providing accurate and useful information about addiction; and (2) teaching the specific skills that are essential for family members to learn and practice. What do family members need to know, what do they need to do, and how can they go about learning and doing those things? This book systematically explains how to create and maintain healthy boundaries, how to work effectively as a team, how to find and use appropriate support, how to improve communication with the addicted member and other family members, and other valuable skills that lead to a better quality of life. This book is for families to help themselves over a lifetime, regardless of whether their addicted member ever gets help, gets help and relapses, or gets help and stays clean and sober. The skills that enable the family to improve its quality of life in the face of addiction turn out to be the same skills that provide the addict an optimal environment for recovery. The emphasis throughout is on you, the family member or friend of the addict. When addiction enters a family, the whole family embarks on a journey. This book is a unique guide for individuals or groups who want to learn the skills and behaviors essential for negotiating that path with the best chance for a positive outcome.”

My Addicted Child by Larry Fritzlan LMFT and Avis Rumney LMFTs

“Do you know someone who has an addiction? Are you worried sick about their health and life? There is good news. There is a solution. My Addicted Child lays out a path of family-based treatment that works. Larry Fritzlan LMFT and Avis Rumney LMFT know what works. In the words of the Clinical Director of a nationally known residential treatment program: “For those who follow [Larry’s] discharge recommendations, including ongoing family treatment, the success rate approaches 100%. For those who don’t follow our recommendations, the success rate approaches zero.” Fritzlan and Rumney describe a treatment approach that can lead not only to sobriety for the addict, but to the addict recouping lost development, and to both the addict and family members becoming healthy individuals who can function together, as a healthy family and in the world. Everything you need to get started is in this book. You, as a concerned parent, hold the key. You can begin today. Larry Fritzlan, LMFT, has been a licensed psychotherapist and a certified addiction specialist for almost 20 years. He is one of the few psychotherapists who is also a certified interventionist, Larry’s passion is to help teens, young adults and their families escape from the downward spiral of addiction. He founded Steps to Freedom, one of the first family-based, long-term addiction and codependency treatment programs. Avis Rumney, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist in private practice for over 30 years, specializes in food and weight problems, addiction, codependency, and family therapy. She is Cofounder of Steps to Freedom and is dedicated to fostering recovery for individuals and families, and supporting them to grow and flourish. Avis is the author of Dying to Please: Anorexia, Treatment and Recovery. For more information, please visit: MyAddictedChild.com”

The Lost Years by Kristina Wandzilak & Constance Curry

“A child caught in the horror of alcohol and drug addition. A mother helplessly standing by unable to save her. The Lost Years is the real life story of just such a mother and child, each giving their first-hand accounts of the years lost to addiction and despair. Kristina, the second of four children, tells how she turns to alcohol for comfort when she is thirteen. She gives a brutally honest description of her descent into addiction, prostitution, burglary and violent rape until her near death on the floor of a homeless shelter completely alone at the age of twenty-one. Adding a heart-wrenching counterpart to the story, Kristina’s mother, Connie, tells of her powerlessness to help her addicted daughter, the break-up of her unhappy marriage and how she comes to terms with her own co-dependency. She is also faced with the worst choice a mother has to make, to close the door on Kristina, sending her onto the streets in order to save herself and protect her other children. Then follows the remarkable story of Kristina’s recovery as she lives through rehab, her mother’s tough love and the years of acclimating herself to living a normal life.”

Little Black Sheep by Ashley Cleveland

“This is the story of the groundwork that paved the way to my faith. It is not an easy story to tell….” This powerful memoir from Grammy Award winner Ashley Cleveland reminds us that even in the lowest times of our lives, beauty can shine through. As a young woman from a deeply flawed family, Ashley had little hope she would amount to anything. If there was trouble, near or far, she found it. Yet, in her destructive days of drugs, alcohol, and sex, she encountered a forgiving God who was relentlessly faithful. Change did not come quickly. The brokenness did not disappear. But little by little, Ashley allowed God to heal her, to transform her desires, to bring courage to others through her journey. Little by little, she saw that it was her brokenness itself that God wanted to use. This beautifully told story will take you from the back rooms of Nashville to the churches of the San Francisco Bay area to a tender new life where one woman discovers that God can work in broken places”

Basketball Junkie by Chris Herren

I was dead for thirty seconds. That’s what the cop in Fall River told me. When the EMTs found me, there was a needle in my arm and a packet of heroin in the front seat. At basketball-crazy Durfee High School in Fall River, Massachusetts, junior guard Chris Herren carried his family’s and the city’s dreams on his skinny frame. His grandfather, father, and older brother had created their own sports legends in a declining city; he was the last, best hope for a career beyond the shuttered mills and factories. Herren was heavily recruited by major universities, chosen as a McDonald’s All-American, featured in a Sports Illustrated cover story, and at just seventeen years old became the central figure in Fall River Dreams, an acclaimed book about the 1994 Durfee team’s quest for the state championship. Leaving Fall River for college, Herren starred on Jerry Tarkanian’s Fresno State Bulldogs team of talented misfits, which included future NBA players as well as future convicted felons. His gritty, tattooed, hip-hop persona drew the ire of rival fans and more national attention: Rolling Stone profiled him, 60 Minutes interviewed him, and the Denver Nuggets drafted him. When the Boston Celtics acquired his contract, he lived the dream of every Massachusetts kid―but off the court Herren was secretly crumbling, as his alcohol and drug use escalated and his life spiraled out of control. Twenty years later, Chris Herren was married to his high-school sweetheart, the father of three young children, and a heroin junkie. His basketball career was over, consumed by addictions; he had no job, no skills, and was a sadly familiar figure to those in Fall River who remembered him as a boy, now prowling the streets he once ruled, looking for a fix. One day, for a time he cannot remember, he would die. In his own words, Chris Herren tells how he nearly lost everything and everyone he loved, and how he found a way back to life. Powerful, honest, and dramatic, Basketball Junkie is a remarkable memoir, harrowing in its descent, and heartening in its return.”

Loss of Innocence by Ron and Carren Clem

“Told both from Carren’s perspective as a former meth addict and from her father’s perspective, Loss of Innocence is one family’s opportunity to prove that there is life after drug addiction. The Clems were a perfectly normal, middle class American family—then 15-year-old Carren became addicted to meth. Her habit shattered the family’s world. Within two months of first taking the highly addictive drug, Carren’s life had spiralled out of control—she had moved out of her home, spent her entire savings, and resorted to stealing, dealing, and prostitution to fund her addiction. Frantic with worry, her father Ron returned to his old job as a police officer in a desperate effort to rescue his daughter, and almost died in the process. Told with compelling candor and dignity from both Carren’s and Ron’s perspective, this brutally honest account is poignant proof of a father’s love and the real possibility of a life after drugs.”

The Steps We Took by Joe McQ

“The words of this book’s title are said aloud every day by thousands of people meeting together to help each other recover from addictions. The addictions may be to alcohol or cocaine, gambling or food, violence or sex and love, but the path to recovery is the same. This is a book of plain-spoken wisdom for people with addictions and people who love them. Joe McQ has been a student of the Twelve Steps for twenty-eight years. He, like tens of thousands of others, lives them every day, one day at a time. In The Steps We Took, Joe takes us through them, one Step at a time, and helps us understand how they work―and how they can change our lives.”

Carry This Message by Joe McQ

“As an internationally respected teacher and lecturer on the Twelve Step method introduced by Alcoholics Anonymous, Joe McQ knows that sponsorship is a key construct for the success of the program because it involves moving a person through the Twelve Step process to recovery. In the early days of AA, sponsors would come to the alcoholic’s home and talk him through Steps 1 and 2, and when they were thoroughly convinced he was ready, they would start him on the program. Step 12 is the foundation of sponsorships: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Carry This Message addresses McQ’s concern that sponsors have lost some skills in working with alcoholics. AA sponsors need to refocus on the Big Book, on the Twelve Steps, and on their message, urges McQ, to recognize the value of the program and to return to its roots and essence. Directed to sponsors, this is a companion book to The Steps We Took, offering tools for helping others find recovery and new life through the Twelve Step program.”

Drop The Rock by Bill P, Todd W, and Sara S

“A practical guide to letting go of the character defects that get in the way of true and joyful recovery. Resentment. Fear. Self-Pity. Intolerance. Anger. As Bill P. explains, these are the “rocks” that can sink recovery- or at the least, block further progress. Based on the principles behind Steps Six and Seven, Drop the Rock combines personal stories, practical advice, and powerful insights to help readers move forward in recovery. The second edition features additional stories and a reference section.”

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

“This basic text for AA members and groups around the world lays out the principles by which members recover and by which the fellowship functions. Originally published in 1952, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions is the classic book used by AA members and groups around the world. It lays out the principles by which AA members recover and by which the fellowship functions. The basic text clarifies the Steps which constitute the AA way of life and the Traditions, by which AA maintains its unity.”

The Twelve Steps for Christians by Friends in Recovery

“This revised edition is a powerful resource for merging the practical wisdom of the Twelve Steps with the spiritual truths of the Bible.”

Codependents’ Guide to the Twelve Steps by Melodie Beattie

“The New York Times bestselling self-help book that offers advice on how to find and choose the recovery program for you, as well as a directory of the wide range of Twelve Step programs, including AA, Codependents Anonymous, Codependents of Sex Addicts, Adult Children of Alcoholics, and more. Millions identified with Melody Beattie in Codependent No More and gained inspiration from her in Beyond Codependency. Now she’s back to help you discover how recovery programs work and to help you find the right one for you. Interpreting the famous Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps specifically for codependent issues for the very first time, this groundbreaking book combines Melody’s expertise with the experience of other people to: Explain each step and how you can apply it to your particular issues; Offer specific exercises and activities to use both in group settings and on your own; Provide a directory of the wide range of Twelve Step programs—including Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous, Codependents of Sex Addicts, Adult Children of Alcoholics, and more. The uniquely warm and compassionate voice of Melody Beattie will inspire you to turn your life around—one step at a time.”

A Hunger for Healing by J Keith Miller

“An exploration of the Twelve Steps and their unique benefits for Christians.”

Tough Guys and Drama Queens by Mark Gregston

“Are you ready for your child’s teen years? If you’ve ever lain awake at night wondering what might be around the corner of your child’s adolescence, this book is for you! After more than thirty-eight years of working with more than 2,500 years, Mark Gregston, founder of heartlight, a Christian residential counseling center, introduces Tough Guys and Drama Queensa must-read “how-to” book for parents of pre-teens and teens with time-tested, biblical techniques to guide you  through these unavoidably challenging years. Mark helps parents realize that some natural parenting approaches are actually counter-productive and therefore totally ineffective.In place of those, he offers tried and true wisdom on the vital importance of relationship, forgiveness, and explains how conflict is actually the precursor to change. Everyday your child is bombarded by highly sexualized culture and over-exposed to words and images that can influence them beyond your reach.your connection to them during these years is critical as is your response to tough issues such as appearance, performance, authority and respect, boundaries, and many more.”

The Teenage Brain by Frances Jensen, MD with Amy Ellis Nutt

“Drawing on her research, knowledge, and clinical experience, internationally respected neurologist–and mother of two boys–Frances E. Jensen, MD, offers a revolutionary look at the adolescent brain, providing remarkable insights that translate into practical advice both for parents and teenagers. Driven by the assumption that brain growth was almost complete by the time a child reached puberty, scientists believed for many years that the adolescent brain was essentially an adult one–only with fewer miles on it. Over the last decade, however, neurology and neuroscience have revealed that the teen years encompass vitally important stages of brain development. Motivated by her experience of parenting two teenagers, renowned neurologist Frances E. Jensen, MD, gathers what we’ve discovered about adolescent brain functioning and wiring and, in this groundbreaking, accessible audiobook, explains how these eye-opening findings not only dispel commonly held myths about teens but also yield practical suggestions for adults and teenagers negotiating the mysterious and magical world of adolescent biology. Interweaving clear summary and analysis of research data with anecdotes drawn from her years as a clinician, researcher, and public speaker, Dr. Jensen explores adolescent brain functioning and development in the context of learning and multitasking, stress and memory, sleep, addiction, and decision making. Examining data connecting substance use to lingering memory issues and sometimes a lower adult IQ, The Teenage Brain explains why teenagers are not as resilient to the effects of drugs as we previously thought; reveals how multitasking impacts learning ability and concentration; and examines the consequences of stress on mental health during and beyond adolescence.”

Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry” by Mike Wilkerson

“Exodus is a real story about God redeeming his people from the bondage of slavery and how their difficult journey home exposed their loyalties—though wounded by Egypt, they had come to worship its gods. Most Christians don’t make golden idols like the Israelites in the wilderness, but we do set up idols on our own desert road—idols like substance abuse, pornography, gluttony, and rage. And even those who don’t know the pain of actual slavery can feel enslaved to the fear and shame that follow sexual abuse or betrayal by a spouse, for we suffer at the hands of our idols as well as those created by others. We need more than self-improvement or comfort—we need redemption. Redemption is not a step-oriented recovery book; it’s story-oriented and Bible-anchored. It unfolds the back-story of redemption in Exodus to help Christians better understand how Christ redeems us from the slavery of abuse, addiction and assorted trouble and restores us to our created purpose, the worship of God. Readers will discover that the reward of freedom is more than victory over a habitual sin or release from shame; it is satisfaction and rest in God himself.”

Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts by Narcotics Anonymous

“First published in August 1992, this book helps NA members focus on a new recovery principle every day. Each of the 366 daily entries opens with an NA quote, examines the day’s topic, and closes with a focusing thought or affirmation. Includes subject index.”

Living Clean: The Journey Continues by Narcotics Anonymous 

“NA’s message has three parts: Any addict can stop using, lose the desire to use, and find a new way to live. This book is about finding a new way to live—the practice of recovery in our daily lives, in our relationships, and in our service to others. It is intended to welcome members new to recovery and to rekindle the passion of longer-term NA members.”

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) by Anonymous

“Narcotics Anonymous: White Booklet is one of NA’s earliest publications became the heart of N.A. meetings and the basis for all subsequent N.A. literature. This booklet contains the twelve steps or principles to recovery, the twelve traditions of NA, and an inspiring selection of personal stories written by men and women who are recovering from an addiction to drugs. Recommended for anyone embarking on the road to recovery, and for all who want to help themselves or someone else stay clean.”

The Big Book Unplugged: A Young Person’s Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous by John R. 

“What does a teen addicted to, say, marijuana, have in common with an adult alcoholic from almost 70 years ago? Plenty, according to The Big Unplugged. This book helps youth find common ground in Alcoholics Anonymous-a book which may sometimes seem remote to today’s teens. The author summarizes each chapter of the Big Book, and in fresh, frank language, addresses issues faced and roadblocks erected by teens¿invincibility, surrender, spirituality, and more.”

Young Sober and Free: Experience, Strength, and Hope for Young Adults by Shelly Marshall

“Offering strategies for getting and staying sober, first-hand stories, and other resources for teens, parents, and professionals, Young, Sober, and Free helps young addicts and alcoholics through recovery. Real teens tell the real story about getting sober and staying sober in this edgy, winning interpretation of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Shelly Marshall lets her teen contributors speak for themselves (and their words are not sugarcoated), while expertly augmenting the personal stories with discussions about time-honored Twelve Step recovery principles. Young, Sober, and Free, first published in 1978, aided the recovery of countless young addicts and alcoholics. This second edition of Young, Sober, and Free, featuring four new stories from teens, is sure to inspire many more. Key features and benefitsfeatures first-person stories of overcoming addiction by teenspresents strategies for getting sober and staying soberexcellent resource for teens, parents, and professionalsAbout the author- Shelly Marshall has dedicated 33 years to working with young addicts. An acclaimed trainer, author, and researcher, she is recognized internationally as an expert in adolescent recovery and her research has been published in four international journals. She lives in Ruthville, Virginia.”

Don’t Let Your Kids Kill You: A Guide for Parents of Drug and Alcohol Addicted Children by Charles Rubin

“This is a self-help recovery guide for parents in the devastating situation of realizing that they are powerless to stop their children from self-destruction through drug and/or alcohol abuse. It is dedicated to letting parents know when it is time to start saving themselves from being dragged along to destruction as well, and to providing skills that prevent it. The book relies on spiritual but practical teachings and the message is for parents to attain a healthy balance in their lives through the letting go process. While showing parents how to safely distance themselves from the child’s destructive patterns, it also shows how to recognize and support healthy requests for real help, if and when they come. It includes anecdotes and quotes from parents who have had to cope with kids on drugs and/or alcohol.”

Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie

“The healing touchstone of millions, this modern classic by one of America’s best-loved and most inspirational authors holds the key to understanding codependency and to unlocking its stultifying hold on your life. Is someone else’s problem your problem? If, like so many others, you’ve lost sight of your own life in the drama of tending to someone else’s, you may be codependent–and you may find yourself in this book–Codependent No More.The healing touchstone of millions, this modern classic by one of America’s best-loved and most inspirational authors holds the key to understanding codependency and to unlocking its stultifying hold on your life.With instructive life stories, personal reflections, exercises, and self-tests, Codependent No More is a simple, straightforward, readable map of the perplexing world of codependency–charting the path to freedom and a lifetime of healing, hope, and happiness.Melody Beattie is the author of Beyond Codependency, The Language of Letting Go, Stop Being Mean to Yourself, The Codependent No More Workbook and Playing It by Heart.”

Tough Love: How Parents Can Deal with Drug Abuse by Pauline Neff 

“Tough Love is hope. It is help. It is a way of recovery for drug abusers, and a positive, supportive program for their families. Tough Love is a gift of love and a gift of life for those who practice its plan. It is a book for all parents, especially those whose children are now on drugs or are exposed to those who use drugs. Pauline Neff has gathered enthralling, real-life accounts of young drug users who needed help and of their parents’ role in seeing that they received it. Eight families describe, in very graphic, heartrending terms, how their children successfully beat the drug habit through The Palmer Drug Abuse Program. PDAP is a privately financed twelve-step program, similar to the steps of AA. Ms. Neff explains each step to show how families can interpret and work through these steps in their own lives. Thousands of young people have found help through this method. Families have been reunited, and parents’ own lives have been changed drastically in the process. If you are a parent of a young person in America today, Tough Love may be the most important book you will ever read. It may save your life.”

A New Normal Now by Joanne Daxon

“This is a true story of a mother’s journey through the drug addiction of her two youngest teenagers.Three of her children were in college and just when life should have been getting easier her whole life was turned upside down. Her husband postponed retiring from the military so the family could move away from the drugs and she left her dream home for a place she called “hell” even before she moved there. Read about how the terror of teenage drug addiction transformed this mom into a counselor for drug addicts and their families.”


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Trying to be happier? Try this.

Positive, enduring relationships are right at the core of sustained happiness.

By John Casey

When we think about what is important in life, we will conclude more often than not that the most meaningful goal is to be happy. And we think about what it is that might get us there, whether in the short-term or long-term, and various things cross our mind—a nice house, a good job, a new car or for the moment, a big, decadent slice of chocolate cake. And they do make us happy! But then we admit to ourselves that these things are subject to a law of diminishing returns. Some of us try to take care of that by having more cake. Sometimes shopping more frequently seems to give us a boost. There are those of us who turn occasionally to alcohol, or prescription drugs, or even illegal drugs—others rely too heavily on these things. The majority of us do our best to manage our lives in a way that is mostly positive, and to do the things we think will provide us longer-term happiness. And we believe, for the most part, the things that will keep us happy are good things—friendships, a stable family, healthy living. And we are right! Those are virtuous and productive parts of life that, combined with our occasional indulgences, provide a spectrum of happiness that overlaps and should keep us generally content. Except it doesn’t always happen that way. If this is our recipe for a full and satisfying life, some of us will succeed. However, most of us will probably fall short of our expectations, and some will fall much farther.

For those of us who are falling short, what then, do we need to add to our recipe? Our intent is to gain a basic understanding of how to lead a more satisfying and happy life, and the answers are all around us, but we often have trouble prioritizing them. We need to keep it simple and focus on just a few things—the most important ingredients. That being said, the recipe for happiness is not quite the same for each of us. People are different, physically and mentally. Depending on who we are, and what our background is, we will require varying amounts of each ingredient to succeed. But the good news is, the ingredients themselves are the same for everyone.

There are those who seem to be happy most of the time, regardless of what happens. Some are prone more than most to anger, dissatisfaction and irritability. Others have had to deal with traumatic events early in life, with few options for help, and are way behind the curve. Some people are genetically predispositioned to be less happy. Yes, they were born that way! And then there is everyone else. In addition to our upbringing and environment, our general state of happiness is directly related to how much dopamine our midbrain releases in everyday situations. Dopamine is a chemical that makes us feel happy, and is released in varying amounts, depending on how “good” the mid-brain estimates our life events are. With this action the brain rewards us for being in situations it determines are beneficial to our survival, and the amount of dopamine released is regulated on a scale that is genetic. So a smile from a friend may make one person 39 percent happy, where in the same situation, with the same smile from the same friend under the same conditions, another person may only feel 25 percent happy. There are other things that release dopamine in the brain as well—sex, sustained exercise, certain foods (cake!), caffeine (a drug), nicotine (a drug), certain prescription and illegal drugs, and alcohol (a drug). While some of these things, in moderation, provide us with healthy doses of short-term happiness, too much of any of them might indicate a misguided search for happiness, or lead to addiction.

The good news is, everyone has the capacity to be happier without over-indulging in anything, and in most cases, we have the ability to become much happier. We just have to work at it. But we have to be careful about how we focus our efforts. When we say we want to be happy, there is a tendency to focus on receiving happiness—“what” or “who will make us happy,” instead of “what can we do to be happy,” and even more important, “what can we do to make others happy.” When we remove ourselves from the focus of our goal, and instead center on the happiness and welfare of others, we begin to find that true, enduring, and productive happiness is a natural byproduct—for others and for ourselves. This is one of the main ingredients in our recipe for a happy life, which I will call our Soulution.

Knowing what the ingredients are only gets us partway there, though. We still have to be able to put it all together, and we have two simple, yet profound answers to help with that, each of which responds to an ages-old, “unanswerable” question. Even as unanswerable as they may seem, we continually search for some complicated, metaphysical epiphany, that blinding light “aha moment” to resolve them—especially when things look bleak, or when our lives are at a crossroads. The questions are similar, but different enough that answers for both are required. And the answers are simple!

The first question is:  What is the meaning of life?

The second is:  What is the key to happiness?

We can answer the first question in just two words:  To Live. Let’s think about this realistically. If we are constantly searching for meaning in our life, we aren’t leaving ourselves much time to reflect on, experience, interact with, and live in the here and now. The meaning of life is to watch a sunrise, go for a run, build something grand, have a family, and teach our children how to do it all. What does it mean to live? “To live” defines itself. When we are mentally absent from the present much of the time due to our preoccupation with what life should have been, or what life is supposed to be, we leave a void of inaction in the present that extrapolates, quite possibly, into an unhappy legacy that falls far short of our abilities and expectations. We quite literally become physically absent from our own life. This then leads tragically to a circular dependency on the aforementioned preoccupation.

We can run right by our perceived obstacles to increased happiness if we are willing to work at it.
We can run right by our perceived obstacles to increased happiness if we are willing to work at it.

In the same vein, the key to happiness is:  To Be Happy. The significant similarity of this answer with the previous is that both contain action verbs—“to live” and “to be.” We cannot live without eating, thinking, moving, working, or interacting. Likewise, we cannot be happy without doing these and other things, like loving, sharing, helping others and improving ourselves. We sometimes confuse the underlying meaning of these verbs by relegating them to passive status. We equate happiness and life with conditions of existence. In other words, we approximate “to be” and “to live” with “to exist.” When this happens it becomes difficult to answer our two questions, because the resolution is now dependent on our environment. It moves away from us, and instead to other people, to the world, to the universe. Once we’ve expanded our “Soulution set” to include the entire universe, it becomes quite complicated and ultimately, impossible to achieve.

Bobby McFerrin seemed to understand this when he wrote Don’t worry, be happy. I love this song. Most people do because it’s catchy and simple, and represents an ideal we’d like to be able to incorporate into our daily lives. Just be happy. And who wouldn’t like to leave all their worry behind? Except that worry can’t really be left behind. It can, however, be mitigated or prevented—which requires action. One of the most effective things we can do is to recognize that worrying about things we cannot control (such as the past) is fruitless. Correspondingly, in his Odes from 23 BC, the Roman poet Horace wrote “carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero,” which translates to “Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow.” His point was that instead of worrying about tomorrow, one must take action for the future in the present—not necessarily the meaning we ascribe to the better-known, shortened version, carpe diem, which we take to mean seize the day or live for today… What Horace meant was our actions in the present must be purposeful. Let’s put Bob and Horace’s ideas together with our answers to the Meaning of Life and the Key to Happiness, because they are all part of our simple Soulution:

Live Purposefully and Be Happy!

When we exercise we should be doing something we enjoy—it shouldn’t feel like a chore.
When we exercise we should be doing something we enjoy—it shouldn’t feel like a chore.

To live and to be happy require action—we need to do these things—they are not done to us. We may recognize that we have experiences or interactions that improve our lives, and that certainly do make us happy, and there is no visible connection between our own actions and these situations. In other words, they appear to happen to us. The truth is, everything we do and say in life, and how we think leads us, inexorably, to these moments. The more consistently positive we are, the more productive action exhibited on our part, the more we find ourselves receiving the benefits of happiness that are seemingly unrelated. Seemingly.

Does this appear too simple? Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s relatively easy to be positive, nice, and productive when the conditions are favorable. When we are challenged, stress can make these required actions seem almost impossible. And again, we tend to spend much of our time reflecting on the past, planning for the future, and searching for meaning. But what if there were no past, and no such thing as the future? We’d be logically driven to cease much of this wasteful behavior, leaving more time to address those challenges and reduce our stress, right? In the book Zen and the Art of Happiness by Chris Prentiss, we are introduced to a concept that helps us realize this. Paraphrasing his point:  There is no such thing as the past, and there is no such thing as the future—there is only the present. Think about it. Pick a time from yesterday—any time. At that exact time yesterday, it was the present. As you read this sentence, it is the present right now. And at noon tomorrow, when noon tomorrow comes, it will be the present then. It is always the present. Always. When we focus on doing the right thing, right now, all the time, we begin to see a past unfold that looks quite attractive—a past we are proud of and happy about. And we come to realize that this trend will more than likely continue into the future so long as we stick to this plan. The only thing that exists is right now. This is where life happens. Right now. All the time.

So let’s add Chris’ concept, which provides a little more depth to Horace’s carpe diem, to our Soulution:

Live Purposefully and Be Happy Right Now!

Spirituality involves improvement and understanding of self, and achieving a deeper understanding of our environment and of our place in it.
Spirituality involves improvement and understanding of self, and achieving a deeper understanding of our environment and of our place in it.

Hopefully everything we’ve looked at so far about how to be happier makes sense. As was mentioned at the beginning though, some people find themselves in such a negative place that “Live Purposefully and Be Happy Right Now” is simply a bridge too far—they do not currently have the capacity, or they are trapped in a situation or environment that prevents them from being able to do this. Those suffering from the terrible effects of addiction or alcoholism, and people with certain other mental illnesses often cannot recover (and be happy) without the help of others. They are conditions sometimes established and often perpetuated by a perceived inability to be happy, and/or a misguided search for happiness. Unfortunately, helping people with these diseases can seem difficult, thankless, and oftentimes hopeless. The reality is that if people with these mental illnesses are helped in an empathetic manner, they can learn that there are healthy, positive, and enduring ways to add meaning to their lives, ways for them to work toward and build happiness, and they can recover. Empathy is important here, because it demonstrates that we understand. If we understand, then our help becomes genuine, and is more likely to be embraced. If we do not understand, if we lack empathy, our help can be perceived as superficial or “clinical,” and may not be readily accepted. You may be asking, how can I be empathetic when I don’t have those problems? Consider that you do. It may only be at a fraction of the level of some, or maybe more than that and you keep telling yourself that “it’s not that bad…” The truth is, every person in the world is at least a little bit nuts! If we weren’t, we’d be mentally perfect, and I haven’t met that person yet. So yes—we can relate, we can be empathetic. We just have to be honest with ourselves first, and yes, (again!) work at it. The good news is, a very significant ingredient in our Soulution for improving our own happiness is helping others, because it is in helping others that we create and build positive, enduring relationships with other people, which I believe constitute the very essence of spirituality.

When we consider the word “spiritual,” religion, faith, and God come to mind. But being spiritual is not the same as being religious, or believing in God. There are many, many definitions for spirituality, and they vary depending on the source. When it comes right down to it though, they generally share two common characteristics—improvement and understanding of self, and with that knowledge in hand, achieving a deeper understanding of our environment and of our place in it. Given the most important part of our environment is the human community, I choose to define spirituality as: A state of continuous personal growth achieved in harmony with others. We can simplify this further by saying: A state of becoming better people. Using this definition, we cannot realize our true potential for personal growth unless we are influencing others, either directly or indirectly, to grow as well. It follows that spirituality requires we strive to be empathetic, and to be cognizant of the needs and value of others. A religion, on the other hand, is a framework of codified beliefs and tenets that by their very nature require us to have faith in the existence and power of God, gods, or a higher power of some kind. And the tenets and beliefs of every statistically relevant religion in the world have essentially the same goal in mind for all of us—to be better people. Notice that we are not saying “good people.” To be “better” implies we can always improve ourselves. To be “good” leaves us with the idea that there is a “self-improvement destination” somewhere along the way, a finish line, when there isn’t one. Our goal is continuous improvement. Together. Religion provides a path for us to become spiritual.

When we believe in God or a higher power, we are admitting we are not the center of the universe. What about other people? Do we measure our worth against others? Yes, we do from time to time. But are we better than them? How do we really know? What is our measuring stick? What do I have to measure others against if not myself? If we are caught up in these kinds of sticky questions, we’ve become confused about what being better or spiritual really means. To be better people, we must first direct our attention inward and understand ourselves.

When we understand and honestly embrace who we are, what we are capable of, what we can control, and what we cannot, we are now equipped to make personal decisions where the determining factors are driven more by self-care (making sure we have everything we need) and less by selfishness (making sure we have everything). We begin to judge others less often or as quickly, and are more open to their thoughts and ideas. We become less prone to ignorant or bellicose behavior, and it becomes easier for us to get along with everyone around us. All of this, in turn, opens our minds and hearts to positive opportunities and healthy relationships that had been, until now, hidden in plain sight. The net (and continual) result is increased happiness. We have come to believe in something greater than our individual selves—and we’re becoming better, spiritual people—something we could not do alone. And before we begin, we have to accept it is all true whether we have proof or not. This is faith, and it is part of our Soulution.

Have Faith, Live Purposefully and Be Happy Right Now!

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Our happiness is directly affected by what we choose to ingest (or choose not to).

In the 2011 movie Happy, leading scientists take us on a journey in search of what makes people happy. In the documentary, researchers conclude that 50 percent of a human’s capacity to be happy is genetic, and roughly 10 percent is related to our ability to properly clothe, feed, and shelter ourselves. Twenty or so percent is dependent on our health and physical fitness and activity, and the rest is based on the level and quality of our human interaction. So half of our capacity to be happy is more or less dependent on us, and how we choose to live our lives! And with 20 percent directly influenced by what we ingest (or choose not to), combined with how fit we decide to be, we can go a long way toward increasing happiness right off the bat by being committed to eating right and exercising regularly. Further, when we exercise we should be doing something we enjoy—it shouldn’t feel like a chore. The goal with exercise should be to do it long enough each time for our brain to release endorphins and dopamine. Endorphins are released when our brain decides we are going to continue to stress our bodies despite how difficult it may be, and it does this because it has determined that we need to keep going. The word “endorphin” is derived from two other words, “endogenous” and “morphine.” Yes, morphine. Endogenous means “made within the body.” They are opioid neuropeptides that inhibit pain, which allows us to exercise longer. Combined with dopamine release, they also provide a sensation of euphoria. These effects bolster our ability and desire to keep going. It is when we reach this state that our scientists from the documentary say we are “in a zone.” Our exercise goals should always include finding that zone. When we find it, our other health and fitness goals, like losing weight, fall right in line. And it needs to be a regimen—a routine, as the happiness we achieve from fitness and being in the zone is transitory—it gradually subsides over the course of the day. By keeping to a regular exercise schedule, we are more likely to maintain healthy eating habits because we see results faster, and we realize we can really do it. We begin to feel better about our appearance, and we sleep better. All of which makes us happier. Which makes health and fitness part of our Soulution:

Have Faith, Live Purposefully, Be Fit and Healthy, and Be Happy Right Now!

Staying with the documentary, the last 20 percent of our capacity is the most important, because it represents the most pervasive (longest-lasting) potential happiness portion of the 50 percent that is not genetic—the portion over which we have control. As we discussed, much of what makes us happy, like exercise, tends to be transitory or situation-dependent. So which situations or conditions under our control provide long-lasting happiness? The scientists in the film were able to show that humans are most happy when they are giving of themselves—when they help other people—unconditionally (these results are borne out in other scientific studies) – with no thought of personal gain. As we discussed earlier, this type of behavior improves our ability to create and sustain positive, enduring relationships—the essence of spirituality, and a gift that keeps on giving. So those of us who already have the capacity to improve our lives and our happiness can do so most significantly by helping those who don’t yet have that capacity! How wonderfully, symbiotically perfect!

Everyone has the capacity to be happier without over-indulging in anything.
Everyone has the capacity to be happier without over-indulging in anything.

Most people recognize there is personal and societal value in helping others. What many do not realize is how powerful this type of human interaction can be. The product of this effort is personal growth and happiness for both the person helped and the helper. It even provides happiness vicariously to people nearby who may only be watching, or hearing about it. And it can then be a catalyst of change for those who witness these actions and their positive results, leading to their desire to contribute to the cause. It’s catchy. When this happens enough, an entire community can evolve.

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity for a few years now to work with an organization that specializes in helping others—Rise Recovery. Rise is a nonprofit based in San Antonio, Texas that provides free counseling, support groups, workshops, and activities to help teenagers and young adults recover from drug and alcohol addiction. With the help they receive they then go on to lead productive and fulfilling lives. And we include their families and loved ones, because these close relationships form the core of their support group as they grow in their recovery. Last year we were able to help 3,148 people. You won’t find a more dedicated, charitable, gracious, effective, and happy group of people than the staff and Board Members at Rise Recovery! They understand what I’m talking about.

So the final ingredient is helping others, unconditionally. And we complete the recipe for a happier life by suggesting we teach our Soulution to others, and work on it together (spiritually!):

Let’s Have Faith, Live Purposefully, Be Fit and Healthy, and Be Happy Right Now!

That’s it then, right? The meaning of life, the key to happiness, Zen, zone, Bobby McFerrin, carpe diem, faith, etcetera, all wrapped up and distilled into a simple, awkward imperative? Well, yes. It’s not magic, just a few things I’ve learned, some things I’ve experienced, things I believe, and a song I heard. What’s relevant is, I’ve incorporated these ideas into my life, and I can tell you they work! And I’ve seen them work for many, many others. In order for these ideas to work for you, we have to work at it, and it has to become routine—a way of life.


Casey’s Recommended Reading:

Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell, 2007

Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., 2011

When the Servant Becomes the Master, by Jason Z.W. Powers, M.D., 2012

Zen and the Art of Happiness, by Chris Prentiss, 2006


Casey’s Recommended Viewing:

Happy, Wadi Rum Films, Inc., 2011

Hector and the Search for Happiness, Relativity Media, LLC, 2014

Groundhog Day, Columbia Pictures, 1993

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John Casey currently serves as Program Director for Xerox Corporation Government Healthcare Solutions and Board Member/Public Relations Chairman for Rise Recovery.


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