Did you ever hear the story about David and Goliath? Goliath was a giant who was terrorizing the Army of Israel. None of the seasoned warriors from Israel were willing to fight him until a shepherd boy named David asked the king if he could fight Goliath.
The king finally agreed, but the man-sized armor was too heavy for David, so he took it off. David went to face, and took down, Goliath with nothing but a sling shot….
AND FIVE SMOOTH STONES.
In the battle against addiction, there are many weapons and tools available. While each journey is as unique as the person who walks it, there are proven factors that successful people have in common. Specifically, there are 5 factors that I believe are absolutely vital to your journey toward healing from addiction. They are:
In the following article, I will address each stone (i.e. tool used to combat drug and alcohol addiction) as well as their importance in maintaining lifelong sobriety. As a counselor at a drug and alcohol treatment center just west of Fort Worth, Texas, I hope these tools will empower you to stay sober and overcome your substance use disorder (SUD).
Stone #1: Spirituality
Saint Augustine once said, “Our hearts will never rest, nor are they meant to rest, until they rest in God.” What he is saying is that humans have a built-in longing for a spiritual connection. And he couldn’t be more spot on.
However, the importance for spiritual connectedness isn’t just limited to people not in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. According to American psychiatrist and theologian, Dr. Gerald G. May, one’s spiritual relationship with God may be vital to those suffering from addiction. In his writings, May states that our addictions are seen as things that prevent us from receiving God’s love.
And these addictions aren’t just limited to substances like heroin, cocaine, opiates, methamphetamines, etc. Addictions can be anything that becomes more important to us than God. For instance, television, shopping, and eating – if abused – can cause us to detach from God and onto more superficial devices.
In his writings, Dr. May suggests that no matter how religious we might consider ourselves, our addictions are exceptionally good at numbing our need to be loved by God. Some religions, like Islam or Mormonism, see how drugs displace priorities and harm relationships, and because of that they’ve issued outright bans on drinking alcohol.
Because of our addictions, we cannot – by ourselves – uphold the Commandments. The substance becomes the central concern in that person’s life and can almost be compared to idolatry. That’s why we need to embrace God’s grace, which is an advocate for true freedom and perfect love.
Unfortunately, this intertwining of addiction and spirituality is further complicated by society’s views on drug abuse. Most religions have been silent when it comes to talking about substance abuse. Whereas some people might lack proper resources or education on the issues, other organizations treat it as taboo or a dirty little secret.
For instance, in a study by LifeWay Research, only 14% of churches have a counselor on staff skilled in mental health and only 13% of churches train their leaders in how to recognize mental illness among their congregation. Seeing as mental illness goes hand-in-hand with substance abuse, these findings are tough to stomach.
Personally, that’s why it isn’t surprising that spirituality hasn’t been given enough credit in the field of addiction treatment as some recovery centers solely focus on the medical and clinical aspects of recovery. At Stonegate Center, a substance abuse treatment center just west of Fort Worth, Texas, we’re one of the few that advertises as a Christian treatment facility.
That’s because addressing one’s spiritual journey is vital in the addiction recovery process. We believe that there is an inherent need for people to be honest with each other when talking about spirituality and addiction. And that communication and a community of recovery-oriented people is essential in order to break down religious stereotypes, set judgment aside, and actually start the healing process.
The best way to treat addiction is through
a mind, body, AND spiritual approach.
We have to applaud some of our local drug rehab partners when it comes to their ability to address the physical and psychological components of addiction. Yet, when it comes to addressing one’s spiritual wellness, we find that many remain mute. And this discourages us because we firmly believe that the best way to treat addiction is through a mind, body, AND spiritual approach.
Research shows that high levels of spirituality are often correlated with low levels of substance abuse, which is why faith-based programs have shown some promise when it comes to treating issues related to chemical dependency. Fortunately for us, modern addiction medicine is coming around.
And thanks to more peer-reviewed research being published on the health benefits of spirituality, more treatment providers are starting to incorporate some type of spiritual track into their program. At Stonegate Center Creekside for men and Stonegate Center Hilltop for women, we fully integrate each client’s spiritual journey into the addiction recovery process.
Moreover, in the current research, there is a pattern: programs that adhere to a spiritual and scriptural theme are highly-effective at keeping clients sober over the long-term. And when we look at the work of Brene Brown, Ph.D., and her colleagues, the role of spirituality starts to become clearer when one talks about submission, or relinquishing control and its role in addiction treatment.
Based on my experience, people with addictions have a need to control things because, in most cases, they want to keep their public life and private life separate. They try to manage both independently, which requires a large amount of energy. Eventually though, control is lost, they’re addiction completely takes over, and they are without guidance. Although this time is tough, it’s at this critical junction that the person is finally ready to surrender to their Higher Power.
That’s why spirituality is important.
But don’t take my word for it… This is even evidenced in journal articles like the one by Lawrence et. al that reviewed physicians’ beliefs regarding faith-based treatment and alcoholism. In their survey, psychiatrists and primary care physicians reported that they had no issue referring to faith-based programs as 85% of respondents believed “an emphasis on spirituality is critical to the success of 12-step programs.”
Stone #2: Support
Support within a chemical dependency treatment program can be directly linked to success in recovery. A supportive, family-like program creates strong connections for sober people to rely on in times of need. Without these connections, individuals with substance use disorders (SUD) feel isolated and lonely, both risk factors for abuse.
But, again, don’t take my word for it! According to Brene Brown, Ph.D., connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. People are wired to connect with others and form strong social bonds.
Through her research, she discovered something: When she asked people about love, they would speak of heartbreak. When she asked people about belonging, they would relay times when they felt excluded. And when she asked them about connection, the stories her clients would share would be about disconnection. This shows you that many people experience a feeling of a void in their lives. Should they try to fill that void with substance use, the results are most often catastrophic.
Community support can be a beautiful part of an effective program for addiction recovery. A program that supports honesty in a space of safety and without judgment will allow clients to finally express feelings, stories, secrets and wounds that they have been self-medicating for decades in some cases.
That’s why Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRPs), or campus-based communities of students in recovery from substance use disorders (SUD), have been so successful. In a survey published in the Journal of American College Health, most students view their CRP program as “extremely helpful” in keeping them sober. And roughly 72% of participants decided to enroll at their respective university because of the camaraderie they’ve developed through their CRP.
Just look at what Caroline Albritton, LPC, LCDC, and Assistant Director of the Counseling and Mental Health Center at Texas Christian University has to say about Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRC):
“There are certain limits to the support that I can provide as a clinician. Peer support is where the magic happens: to have someone who is right there with you, in the same boat, share something out loud that you have been thinking in your own head for so long… For the first time for some, they know and trust that ‘I’m not the only person in the universe (or on this campus) who has ever thought this, felt this, gone through this.’ It gives a sense of hope that being sober in college is not only possible, but attractive!”
-Caroline Albritton, LPC, LCDC
Personally, admitting we need the support of others is one of the bravest things we can do. But I understand how terrifying it can be! Addiction loves isolation, and people who have been struggling with the disease find it super hard to reach out to others. In treatment, being vulnerable and open in front of others is essential in working towards healing and sobriety.
I find that people need to be willing to do something even if the outcome is uncertain, which is often the case in Texas drug rehab. They need to be willing to experience a negative or frightening emotion in order to breathe and pray through the process. An effective program will encourage the use of 12-Step work and other Christian principles, like we do out at Stonegate Center, in order to help our clients move through the stages of change and healing.
On our 125+ acre campus, we incorporate Scripture and Bible Study into the addiction recovery process because we’ve seen some outstanding results by doing so. The Bible is called The Sword for a reason: it is the only offensive weapon when we put on the armor of God. So, don’t knock it! It’s a tool we encourage our clients to wield in their battle toward and beyond recovery.
Stone #3: Skills
One of the most difficult aspects of addiction recovery can be the learning (or re-learning) of skills. We may be unaware of how to do some basic things because we have been in survival mode with our addictions for far too long.
For instance, here are some questions I’ve asked when it comes to acquiring new skills:
- How do I get back to eating three meals a day?
- How am I ever going to sleep at night without using before bed?
- How can I tell if someone is my real friend?
- How do I cook?
- How do I work out without using stimulants?
- How do I repair relationships that were destroyed?
- Can I have fun in sobriety?
Some of these questions may seem simple, whereas others are much more complex. But as addiction treatment professionals, we know that drugs and alcohol have warped the brain. That’s why we need to retrain it – starting off with the basics, such as how to wake up in the morning, to more advanced skills like maintaining a healthy marriage.
To do so, we use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
The goal of CBT is to help you understand (1) how addiction influenced your learned behaviors and (2) how to learn healthy coping responses to maladaptive thought patterns.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is rooted in the idea that unhealthy behaviors such as substance use are created by learned habits through life experiences. This means that behaviors like substance abuse, which initially relieve negative emotions, actually result in a rapid descent into addiction.
In Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), therapists can help people learn to recognize their problem behaviors. Then, they can be guided toward strategies to correct those problems. Through the development of self-care skills, a person can stop giving in to negative emotional reactions and therefore prevent further drug abuse.
Research has demonstrated that skill acquisition through CBT results in long-standing sobriety after the completion of a treatment episode (i.e. alcohol rehab in Texas). The client is then able to learn different skills to enhance their impulse control and help them develop effective coping behaviors.
There are several highly effective approaches that are utilized in CBT including reviewing best- and worst-case scenarios regarding the consequences of continued drug use (i.e. divorce, loss of custody, loss of job). This can also include self-awareness and mindfulness to recognize your own emotional and physical responses to cravings or a recurrence of withdrawal symptoms even months into sobriety.
Therapists, like those on our team at Stonegate Center, can also help clients create an escape plan should they find themselves in a high-risk situation. While working through cognitive behavioral therapy, the therapist discusses with the client what problems are likely to occur once they discharge from treatment.
Many people are raised with basic life and social skills that they use as part of their everyday life. These are called activities of daily living. Once addiction creeps in, it is baffling how quickly these everyday skills slip away. Life begins to revolve around substance use and the person changes in many ways. In drug and alcohol rehab, these skills are presented and practiced in a small, safe place. This way folks can re-learn or acquire things they forgot how to do.
For example, at Stonegate Center, we emphasize a family-style dining experience. Many people who are deep in their addiction forget the value of enjoying a meal around a table with other people. This creates a bond between members of the community as clients help with meal preparation, service, and clean up. As simple as this sounds, self-care, teamwork, and friendship fall by the wayside when addiction takes control. These basic activities help foster skills once forgotten to emerge and make one’s life experience richer.
Another difficult thing can be the bad habits we develop while deep in our addiction. Some struggle with telling the truth, others live in fear of not having money. And some people have forgotten their personal, emotional, and physical boundaries. That leaves them open to abuse, which often fuels the cycle of addiction.
Once we leave treatment, we can practice these skills at home, in meetings, at work, and in relationships. This is not always easy because we get challenged every day to “live life on life’s terms.” This means, frankly, it can be challenging to walk in sobriety since life is already moving at full speed whenever you discharge from an inpatient rehab facility. But it is possible to get a new lifestyle, with new skills and new friends, in order to keep you sane and sober.
Stone #4: Structure
Structure is incredibly important as you enter recovery. This is going to be a brand-new experience for many people as you are finally going to feeling the full realm of human emotion – both good and bad. You are also going to need to learn to balance work, relationships, family, and sobriety.
One of the best ways to do this is to create a routine.
At our drug rehab center in Azle, Texas, we encourage our clients to follow a very structured routine, which can be modified into their daily life once they leave treatment. That’s because routine has been shown to have remarkable psychological benefits. For instance, it can improve symptoms of mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
As well, routine is a stress killer.
Setting time for certain things like work, exercise, and fun allows the brain to adapt and overcome stressful situations. Instead of constantly worrying about when you’ll get things done, your routine will help set predictable guidelines and goals throughout the day. You’ll then be able to rely on your schedule and relax a little bit more, which ultimately lowers cortisol levels and helps improve heart health.
A typical day at Stonegate Center looks like this:
Creating a schedule and sticking to it is a priceless tool for those struggling with drug addiction and alcoholism. Plus, it’s not that hard to do! We have smartphones with alarms and built-in calendars, which we can use as constant reminders of the next thing to do every hour of the day.
It’s going to be important to work on new habits that maintain your health in sobriety once you discharge from an inpatient, residential treatment center. Now, you may not need to get up as early in the morning as you did in rehab, but you still need to set a time to wake up early. Just like you had a routine, maybe even a ritual while you were using, you can now create a healthy alternative and a more beneficial routine for being in recovery.
Frankly, not having a routine
puts people at risk of relapse.
Frankly, not having a routine puts people at risk of relapse. That’s why it’s important to consider laziness or lack of purpose / structure a risk factor to your health. To combat this, remove yourself from negative environments and surround yourself with like-minded individuals who, too, have strict schedules.
One of the biggest things that happens in addiction is that people are unable to follow through with things. While abusing substances like drugs or alcohol, compulsion will drive you throughout the day, throwing you off your schedule. This lack of structure starts to eat away at relationships, causes you to develop unhealthy habits, and decreases your overall health.
Once you enter into recovery, things might feel a little bit odd at first. You might feel overwhelmed because you’ve been asked to make choices, if you haven’t already, to release many things from your former life in addiction. Setting up new routines and different types of daily patterns will help you structure everything so that you are able to make the best choices on an hour-by-hour and day-by-day basis.
Once you do these behaviors enough, the routines become habit, and you’ll start to feel good about keeping this schedule and sticking to fulfilling promises. You may initially start out doing these things in order to avoid relapse or to please others who had expectations of you to remain sober, but eventually they become part of who you are and they are reinforcing on their own.
Just like children are more successful when we make sure that they’re sleeping and eating and their activity patterns stay pretty much the same on a daily basis, we too, are hardwired to be more successful when we take care of these needs in our adult lives. Our bodies work best when we are taken care of, and when taking care of ourselves becomes a habit, then staying sober becomes more and more easy to sustain.
But this isn’t just anecdotal! Science supports this idea.
In 1999, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported on early days after treatment and how vital it is to have a schedule. Specifically, they reported that, “Structuring one’s time is an important aid to recovery. Having definite plans and staying busy helps a recovering addict to avoid having excess free time.”
This piece explains that when unstructured time is in excess, boredom will come into play and increase the risk of getting back into old addictive behaviors. Structured routines give people a sense of control. This can also be called “autonomy” – or steering your own ship.
In this situation, people are directing the path of their lives by making healthy, conscious choices. It gives people a sense of pride to have gotten ownership of making positive changes and good decisions. The report also suggests that daily routines and weekly routines are both a huge component of a successful long-term sobriety.
Here are some helpful tips on how to incorporate structure into your daily life:
- Wake up at the same time every day in order to make sure that you have everything you need for school or work and not feel rushed.
- Lay your clothes the night before. If you’re not a morning person, it’s helpful to pack your lunch the day before and get everything prepped so there’s no need to rush in the morning. This allows you to slowly ease into the day and enjoy that morning cup of coffee instead of downing it in one gulp.
- Pass the PIES! There should be some sort of physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual activity every single day. I call this the PIES model.
- Plan your meals, make sure that you’re making healthy choices, but do allow yourself to splurge every once in a while, because you don’t want to be so restrictive with yourself that you feel deprived.
- Get connected and take the time to finally be present with your family. So many times, my clients tell me that they’ve missed out on so much while they were in their addiction, but a routine can help combat this.
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Getting the proper amount of sleep per night will help reduce stress, improve your memory, and put you in a better mood. Without a full 8 hours, you won’t be ready to tackle the day, which could prevent you from handling stressful situations if they pop up.
Weekly routines should definitely include some sort of physical activity, as I mentioned above. It should also include attending a support group meeting and exploring some more in-depth spiritual activity joining a fellowship, doing meditation or yoga.
Finally, let’s not forget that we are social creatures and that it’s very important for you to socialize on a regular basis with supportive, non-substance-abusing friends and family. Most people experience a comfort in their new-found routine.
In a nutshell, sobriety is essentially embarking on a new way of life. Why not take charge of it now and start moving towards your better, healthy, and positive new life?
Stone #5: Service
Let’s talk about service.
No, let’s talk about service – with a smile! In simple terms, service is helping someone else. Many times, when people are in the midst of active addiction, they are very self-centered. They completely lose the ability to consider other peoples’ thoughts, feelings, and needs. Yet in treatment, we want to help them overcome their Ego in order to be selfless for once because giving back feels good.
When we start out in early sobriety, getting involved with helping other people is not only empowering, but it is an integral part of the sustained sobriety. When we do something that helps somebody else, we are actually helping ourselves. Service looks differently for everybody. It can be something large like coaching a little league softball team. Or, it can be something small like asking the elderly neighbors if they need anything from the grocery store.
Every day, we are presented with chances to help other people. And whether these are planned or spontaneous, they serve the same purpose – to be altruistic and purposeful human beings on this planet.
Once we have mastered smaller tasks, we might want to start working on bigger challenges. This could be moving into some sort of leadership role or organization; helping organize food drives around Thanksgiving for a food pantry; or maybe joining a group that helps youth in the community or volunteering at an animal shelter!
The real trick is to find some sort of service that you find rewarding. Something that is specifically meaningful to you is important, because that way you will stick with it. You will enjoy it so much that you will continue to show up to help others. When you have a commitment to serving others, you’re able to keep yourself focused on the here and now.
People that have too much down time – especially when they first come out of treatment – can really get caught up in their own self again. They may forget the skills they learned in treatment. All of the scheduling and routines that they’ve been trying to stick with suddenly become much less meaningful.
though we have become healthy through treatment, as we emerge into recovery, we may still have some former habits of fearfulness of committing to anyone or anything. We also may be afraid that if we are overcome with work and family, service we might trip us up. Both of these are valid points, but if you listen to your gut and ask your sponsor or friends, you’ll know what healthy boundaries you are able to keep.
However, you want to describe it, people are social creatures by nature. They can give, they can help, they can be of service. This looks like volunteering and being willing to reach out to those in need. Regardless of the word you want to use, it is evidence that not only the people getting service benefit. In fact, the person who is reaching out and supporting others in any capacity is also benefiting.
Evidence in research such as “The Joy Factor” by Susan Smith Jones shows that there are enormous health benefits to people who are helpers no matter what age. Some of them are:
- You will enjoy a sense of purpose, worth and fulfillment.
- You will reduce your loneliness, isolation and stress levels.
- You will discover the “Joy Factor” -> Things we do in service makes us feel alive!
- You will stay physically and mentally active – Avoid too much down time!
- You will decrease your risk of depression and anxiety.
Young people have less disciplinary and legal problems, adults enjoy greater satisfaction with their own lives and happier social interactions. Elderly people also enjoy working in service because it gives meaning to a life that they may or may not have previously lived. We know that in certain programs, helping others who are struggling with addiction is a way to keep oneself sober.
I read a story online about a client who had gone through a treatment program for addiction. He had several relapses and was continuing to struggle to stay sober no matter how many episodes of treatment he had. He was extremely depressed. Just like addiction, depression thrives on isolation and just like addiction, depression tells us lies.
He stated that the more he was able to reach out to others and help them get and stay sober, he was able to also stay sober. Iron sharpens iron, and as we say at Stonegate Center, “Steel on steel.” Service builds sustained sobriety.
Reach Out if You’re Struggling with Chemical Dependency
Now back to David…
The shepherd boy grew into a man. He made a lot of mistakes as he grew, and he made a lot of messes even after he was grown. He became a king and STILL found ways to get in trouble. But he loved the Lord. He worked hard at doing the right thing: asking for forgiveness and making things right when he could. Despite all of his shortcomings, he was still called, “A man after God’s own heart.” And it all started with 5 Smooth Stones.
I hope you’re able to use the 5 Smooth Stones in order to fight your Giant – whether that’s a personal demon or whether that’s addiction to substances like heroin, alcohol, methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, or cocaine. Whatever the case, these 5 factors should help you live a full, happy, and healthy life in sobriety and with the Lord.
If you’re struggling with substance abuse and can’t seem to stop relapsing, give us a call. Our Admissions Specialists are in recovery themselves and are happy to answer any rehab-related or addiction-related questions you have. Some of our more common FAQs can be found here and some of our more silly questions that we’ve gotten over the years can be found here.
The best way to reach us is by phone at (817) 993-9733 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. At our Fort Worth drug rehab facility, we offer clients a long-term, peaceful way to recover from drug abuse. Our program includes individual, group, and family therapy and lasts anywhere from 45 days to 90 days depending on insurance coverage and medical acuity.
So, don’t hesitate to call! We look forward to having you on our campus in order to provide you addiction treatment that actually works.
Dr. Laurel Strahan received her Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology from Texas Woman’s University. She earned her Master’s Degree in Counseling from the University of Tulsa and her undergraduate degree from Texas Tech University. Laurel has over 25 years of experience providing psychotherapy to those who struggle with Depression, Women’s Issues, Grief, Trauma and Addiction. She specializes in faith-based therapy, anxiety disorders, interpersonal disconnect, addiction-related issues, complicated grief/loss and direct behavioral intervention. Her theoretical orientation is a strength-based, client-focused positive psychology. Through her experience in working in addiction treatment centers, she has been able to use her knowledge of addiction-related issues for both the client and others affected by the disease. She ascribes to a non-judgmental, Cognitive behavioral therapeutic approach to psychotherapy.