The Recovery of Craig K.

“First responders are usually the first on the scene to face challenging, dangerous, and draining situations,” explains a Supplemental Research Bulletin by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “They are also the first to reach out to disaster survivors and provide emotional and physical support to them. These duties, although essential to the entire community, are strenuous to first responders and with time put them at an increased risk of trauma.”
According to the SAMHSA Bulletin, “It is estimated that 30 percent of first responders develop behavioral health conditions including, but not limited to, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as compared with 20 percent in the general population (Abbot et al., 2015). In a study about suicidality, firefighters were reported to have higher attempt and ideation rates than the general population (Stanley et al., 2016). In law enforcement, the estimates suggest between 125 and 300 police officers commit suicide every year (Badge of Life, 2016).”
Experiencing severe trauma is strongly correlated with substance use disorder (SUD). In a study investigating alcohol use in police officers following Hurricane Katrina, there was a significant association between involvement in the hurricane relief efforts and hazardous alcohol drinking (Heavey et al., 2015). In another study, the average number of alcoholic drinks after Hurricane Katrina increased from 2 to 7 drinks per day (McCanlies et al., 2014).
Many traumatized first responders attempt to alleviate their mental health symptoms with drugs and alcohol. Former police officer Craig K. was one of them. As a young man, the Harmony alumnus entered a work environment where you “push horrible calls to the back of the head,” downplay the horror, and move on. The traditional macho culture prevalent among first responders taught him how to “party like a cop” to release the stress.
When traumatic episodes start to show an impact you still don’t think you have a problem: “They tell you about the stress but they don’t build in a mechanism to deal with it.” One time, Craig was called to the scene of a helicopter crash. The smell of the jet fumes connected with the carnage he was forced to witness is etched into his memory. Craig refers to these traumatic events in his career as demons.
One of his main demons is the Columbine high school shooting. “To this day I can’t hear fire alarms,” he says. “I freak out when I hear fire alarms.” More than twenty years later, Craig is still angry with the teenage perpetrators.
In the aftermath of Columbine, his drinking “took another level” and he could not stop watching the news about the shooting on TV. Like many of his colleagues he was traumatized and felt the police were unjustly blamed for not doing enough to stop the massacre. Craig took it personally.
Family hardships followed: his son was born without an immune system and “everything was thrown out of kilter,” including his marriage. All the while his alcohol use disorder (AUD) became steadily worse. “We started going to therapy” but talking about the health problems of my son was just “an easy way to avoid talking about my problems,” Craig remembers. The inevitable negative consequences started to pile up, he left the police force and got a divorce.
The AUD kept destroying his life, “everything after 2011 is really cloudy.” At the end of last year, Craig finally realized that something was wrong. On New Year’s Eve, he was hospitalized for four days. “I still didn’t realize why I was shaking so much.” After his discharge, he started drinking again and by February he was back in the hospital. On that occasion, “the ER doctor tells me ‘if you keep this up, you’re going to die in three months.’”
By this time, however, Craig was firmly in the grip of active addiction, so he kept on drinking. After getting fired from his job, he saw his pastor who told him about Harmony Foundation. Craig was finally ready to change.
Traumatic life experiences are extremely common among patients with substance use disorder. Because of this strong correlation, trauma-informed care is an important part of addiction treatment at Harmony. All staff have been trained in trauma-informed care. When SUD patients arrive for treatment, they often have few coping skills to deal with their traumatic memories and emotional pain. They have to learn to manage emotions and situations without drugs and alcohol.
Craig finally realized that “ego was not his amigo.” Your ego “makes you cocky and doesn’t allow you to see your real self,” he says. “I rode the ego train 24/7.”
Things are much better now for Craig. “I don’t want to be that person anymore. I’m really excited that I am getting clear and more focused. I’m starting to understand things that I read in the Big Book, that we talk about in meetings, that I’m witnessing.”
At Harmony, he began to learn how to process his trauma, acquiring important coping skills. After his discharge, he connected with a sponsor within a week and—thanks to Zoom—was able to attend several meetings a day. The Daily Reflections and two other AA books go with him everywhere he goes.
“I have to work at this every day. It’s like a diet or going to the gym – you have to put in the work.” If you don’t work on your recovery every single day, you’re cheating yourself.
Recovery is always possible. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, or you have questions about our programs, call Harmony today at (970) 432-8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible.

Addiction Reaches Sesame Street

Sesame Street

America’s addiction crisis is now so pandemic that it features on one of the most popular TV programs for children. As was revealed in a recent episode, one of the Muppet characters on “Sesame Street” is struggling with a big, “grown-up” problem. Show producer Sesame Workshop created a series of videos in which young Karli talks to her friends about her mom’s struggle with addiction. Karli came to “Sesame Street” in May to stay with a foster family because her mother was “having a hard time.” Continue reading “Addiction Reaches Sesame Street”

Why Recovery Needs Healing Space

Addiction is a family disease. The Recovery Book advises family members of people in recovery that “Everyone in your family, as well as other people in your lives, has been affected by addiction in some way. Now you all need to work on getting your lives back to some kind of normal.”

Michael Arnold is a recovering alcoholic who now works as an alumni relations manager at the Harmony Foundation. In a recent Facebook Live with her twin sister, Michael and Casey talked about the impact Michael’s addiction and recovery had on their relationship. Both siblings demonstrated how important clear and honest communication is for the family dynamic.

Michael talked about the need to share with “brutal honesty what addiction can do to your family.” Casey talked about how hard it was for her to watch Michael decline in active addiction, realizing there was nothing she could do, that Michael had to save herself.

Michael recalls doing things to her family that “just weren’t nice.” Casey remembers all too well. Seven years ago Michael helped to put her twin sister briefly in jail—just to hurt her. Michael was in such a bad place that to hurt her sister made her feel better.

“I never thought I could be close with Michael again, never thought I could trust her again,” Casey said. But change can happen. Recovery can work miracles. “Michael has changed. She is not the person she was seven years ago,” Casey said. “She is not that selfish person that put me in jail. She’s working very hard at it every day.”

For desperate family members the trick is to be patient and supportive. “Don’t hammer people in recovery about all the mistakes they made in active addiction” all the time. “Show your love,” Casey said. “You need to have grace and patience with them. As family members you have to give them space to recover, the harder you are on them the worse it’s going to be.”

Appealing to people in the audience who have family members with addiction, Casey said, “You have to choose either to be there and support them or walk away. You can’t live in the middle and hold their past wrongdoings against them—that doesn’t help them recover. I have nothing but complete love for Michael now and I’m just so proud of her. It’s been a journey for both of us.”

Michael shared her side of that journey. Only “when I went through rehab did I get the tools to tell myself everyday to have that patience, to be so grateful that I’m sober. I have to know that my family will trust me; that they should realize that I’m a changed person but time is not on my side.”

It’s important to remember that recovery is a process. “I thought simply that Casey and I would be okay now that I’m sober. The relationship would be fine but it wasn’t,” Michael remembers. “Casey gave me that space for about a year to recover, but then she said ‘we need to talk about what happened’ so that we can move forward.”

Casey had to tell Michael what she had done to her and “she took it hard. I love you, I forgive you, but you have to earn the trust back.” That shook Michael, “but now our relationship is even stronger because you have to be able to open up about these things or they will simply fester.”

Making amends is an ongoing process for Michael now and Casey knows it. “Michael is ruthless and relentless about her recovery—she has even written a book about it. She is working hard every single day and that is all you can ask.”

A Family Affair: Navigating Holiday Triggers by Khara Croswaite Brindle

Family: Holiday Triggers

It’s that time of year again, the time where people like to highlight the good, the cheer, and the happiness of the holiday season. But what if holidays bring on a sense of dread? What if you have to navigate the heavy drinking of your family members? Or be in the same room with a person who hurt you in the past? What if holidays create loneliness, risk of relapse, or critical self-reflection as the year comes to a close? For many people, these worries are just the beginning of what they may navigate from November to the New Year. So how can we each feel supported through the stressors of the season?

Bolstering Boundaries

One important element of being successful in our functioning around family is boundaries. Boundaries can be defined as physical or emotional in the way they are implemented to allow feelings of safety. Here are some examples of boundaries to consider with family to support feelings of safety and security during the holiday season:

  • Allowing someone’s refusal of a hug from a family member they barely know
  • Supporting comfortable distance between individuals throughout holiday activity
  • Encouraging space when close proximity is triggering such as a walk or errand
  • Listening for verbal cues about safe and unsafe topics during meals
  • Honoring a person’s decision to decline an activity due to risk of relapse

In other words, identifying ideas of how to support each family member’s needs can encourage enjoyment in all holiday festivities without judgement or conflict. This mindfulness of self and others can entice individuals to fully participate and engage in positive experiences as a family.

Tracking Triggers

Mindfulness can support positive experience through coping with triggers in the holiday environment. Supporting each family member’s self-awareness of triggers can be a first step in determining adjustments to allow full participation in festivities.  In the hope of healthy family connection, below are some examples of triggers that may arise:

  • Interacting with a family member that was formerly abusive
  • Talking of trauma topics that create conflict such as the time they had a drinking problem, eating disorder, or abusive partner
  • Engaging in traditions that encourage relapse including spectator sports
  • Recognizing people or places that are connected to trauma memories such as the holiday party where they experienced sexual assault
  • Feeling peer pressure to engage in activities that feel unsafe including binge drinking
  • Having the perception of criticism or judgement by their family, coworkers, or friends
  • Remembering trauma anniversaries that overlap with the holidays including death and breakups
  • Experiencing sights, smells, and other sensory information that connect to trauma such as cologne/perfume, alcohol, or ice and snow

Cultivating Connection

With all of the potential triggers at play during the holidays, it becomes crucial that we feel a connection to one another in our efforts to contain the stress. Reaching out to trusted family and friends or seeking the help of a professional can support a person in navigating the holiday demands. Balancing out stress with positive connection can make a significant difference in our ability to participate in holiday traditions and create new, positive memories where trauma memories formerly dictated our experience. By connecting with people who can relate, we may also learn new skills of how to remain fully present in the holiday experience and find joy in the family and traditions we’ve come to value.

 “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Khara Croswaite Brindle, MA, LPC, ACS, is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Lowry Neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. She received her Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver with a focus on community based mental health. Khara has experience working with at-risk youth and families, including collaboration with detention, probation, and the Department of Human Services. Khara enjoys working with young adults experiencing anxiety, depression, trauma, relational conflict, self-esteem challenges, and life transitions.


Raising Awareness About Addiction

The United States has been faced with a prescription opioid epidemic for a number of years, and just when everyone thought the problem might be getting better, a scourge of heroin abuse reared its ugly head. The use of heroin is at an all time high, and addicts are losing their lives every day.

The disease of addiction does not just affect alcoholics and addicts, it has an impact on the entire family. Years of abusing drugs and alcohol, accompanied by dishonest and deceitful behavior, takes its toll on the parents who have had to watch their loved one self destruct. The hope is that those battling addiction will seek help, and begin a journey down the road of recovery – living a productive life free from all mind altering substances.

Just as active addiction involves the family, so too does recovery. It is important that families take an active role in their loved one’s recovery process. Addicts and alcoholics who have the support of their family have a better chance at achieving long term recovery. Many parents who have been involved in the addiction/recovery process can also help the families whose loved ones are still active in their addiction, by raising awareness.

While the holiday season is a time for friends and families to come together and rejoice, it is also a time to reflect about the things for which we are grateful. For some people, the thing they are most grateful for is their recovery or that of their loved ones. With Christmas right around the corner, countless houses have covered their properties with lights and ornaments, to reflect the spirit of Christmas. One family has decided to use the opportunity to raise awareness about addiction and inform people that there is help available.

Every year, the Kurtz family of Bel Air, MD, puts on a spectacular Christmas light show at their home, but this year they’re using the spectacle to talk about addiction, ABC 2 reports. Jim and Helen Kurtz know all too well about addiction, their daughter Caroline is recovering from heroin addiction.

“We’ve been dealing with our daughter’s drug addiction for a few years now and we thought, we finally became brave enough to put it out there,” said Helen. “It’s a slow road, you know, it’s a road out of hell, but you can get out.”

The Kurtz’s daughter is now doing well, living in a sober living home, according to the article. Caroline’s recovery appears to be the family’s Christmas miracle. She will be joining her family on Christmas Day.

“The one thing we always said was that it could not happen to us,” Jim said. “And that’s the one takeaway you need to be aware of, it can happen to you, addiction can happen to anyone, it’s not choosy about who it happens to.”


Making It Through Thanksgiving, Sober

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, which, for those in recovery may be a challenge. The majority of people in recovery would drink a lot over the holidays, so it is important to create new rituals and traditions that do not involve mind altering substances. This can be difficult, but it is possible; many recovering alcoholics now look forward to the holidays.

For those who are new to recovery, it is vital that you stay connected to your sponsor and recovery peers over the course of the day. Remember that people have walked the road you are on ahead of you. Learn from their past experiences, the dos and don’ts of recovery over the holidays.

Attending holiday dinners and/or parties should be approached with caution. Alcohol is likely to be in the hands of your peers, and you want to keep your distance as much as possible. It is always smart to bring a friend in recovery to such events, having someone around who is working towards a common goal can be a huge help. If you are having cravings you talk about it with them, if the urge does not dissipate then it is best to leave the event.

Family gatherings can really test the strength of your program. If you plan to attend, it is a good idea to leave early before people become intoxicated. It is never any fun being around drunk people when you are in recovery. If your family is not an active part of your life, spend time with your recovery family.

On Thursday, there will be 12-step meetings happening all day long. If you miss your homegroup, there are many other meetings you can attend. A number of meeting houses will be holding Thanksgiving events, such as a dinner and a meeting. Recovery events can be a great time, and a perfect opportunity to create a new ritual for the holidays. If you have time, volunteer your help, it is a great way to get out of your head. They are also a great opportunity to meet other members in your recovery community.

Harmony Foundation would like to wish everyone in recovery a safe and sober Thanksgiving. __________________________________________________

If you are or a loved one is one is active in their addiction, please contact Harmony Foundation to begin the journey of recovery. Harmony is a state-of-the-art, affordable, residential addiction treatment program located in the Rocky Mountains.

How Addiction Impacts The Family

Addiction unravels the life of the individual in its grasp. As circumstances in the individual’s life began to spiral downward, those around the addict begin to suffer as well. Addiction is a family disease. This includes not only immediate family members, but also coworkers and friends that are involved in the addict’s life. As addiction takes a toll on the quality of life of the addict, negative consequences of their disease begin to creep into the lives of those around them.

The addiction and its consequences instill an atmosphere of negativity around the addict. Whenever anyone is around them they are often surrounded by an aura of negative emotions. These emotions can include anger, sadness, confusion, and anxiety.

These emotions are related to common situations that impact families during addiction. First, money will often be a factor that impedes upon the family dynamic during the addiction process. As the addiction grows the addict needs more of the substance to achieve the same result. When they can no longer afford to support their addiction, they must lie, cheat, borrow, or manipulate their way to gaining the funds necessary to get the substance they need. Those closest to the addict will typically suffer first, and the hardest. The addict will try to borrow money from friends and family. They may manipulate those close to them to get money from them. This can include concocting untrue and elaborate stories or circumstances that explain why they need money. Those involved in the addict’s life will feel used and hurt when they find out the truth, and may chose to stay away from the addict altogether.

Another common way addiction impacts family and work relations is when the addict starts not showing up – emotionally or physically. The addicted individual will likely not pull his or her own weight at work or in the family. They may show up late or not at all. Even when they do show up their work, be it helping around the home, with the kids or on the job, is sub par. This leaves family members and coworkers resentful because they have to compensate for the addict’s lack of involvement or production.

Being in addiction can also cause inconsistent boundaries at home. The addict may seem to get away with a lot of negative behaviors because they are chalked up to their disease. Meanwhile, other family members are not granted the same leniency, leading them to resent the addict. Or the parents or spouse of the addict may develop a problem with co-dependency. This essentially means they place such a high priority on taking care of the addict that they stop sufficiently taking care of themselves. Those close to the addict may go another route by denying the fact that there is a problem or even enabling their behavior by turning a blind eye or supporting them financially or emotionally.

Because there are many situations that can arise from addiction that will cause negative emotions and circumstances for those involved in the addict’s life, these feelings don’t go away when the addict gets sober  or enters addiction treatment. That is why Harmony Foundation places the utmost importance on the recovery of the family alongside the addict. We believe through education and communication the family can recover. For more information about our family program, click here.