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.

The First Call Is Always the Hardest: It Makes All The Difference by Justin Barclay

I was 29 years old when I went to treatment. It was a nudge from a Judge that drove me to my first introduction to Harmony Foundation when I called asking for help. At that time I couldn’t imagine my life without alcohol, but I did know that I didn’t want to be miserable anymore. Alcohol may have taken away the bad feelings, but it certainly did not take away the misery, it was an unwanted houseguest that had moved in and was planning to stay.

I will never forget that first call. I was scared, uncertain and feeling hopeless. Sharon, a former Union Boilermaker, originally from Pittsburgh, was my lifeline to my new life in recovery. Sharon was kind and understanding, she eliminated barriers, was honest, and insightful. I had tried different feeble attempts of getting sober that all involved managing and moderation. When it was all said and done, Sharon was quick to point out that everything I tried wasn’t working and said, “Try this!” She added that I was allowed to try things once in my life and never have to try them again if I didn’t like it. So, I tried, came to Harmony and by the grace of my God of my understanding, I haven’t found it necessary to pick up a drink or a drug since that phone call.

Whether you’re a friend, family member or just desperately in despair looking for help, making that first call can be overwhelming. Many people perceive addiction treatment likened to Jack Nicholson in “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” In truth, most addiction treatment is not straightjackets, lockdown facilities and Nurse Ratchet’s.

In fact, good addiction treatment and working with someone in admissions is built on compassion, empathy, strength and guidance. As a person in recovery who went through the admissions process, I can say that the first call makes all the difference.

What can you expect when calling for help? First and foremost you should expect to be treated with dignity and respect. Someone who is willing to answer every question you have. You should expect to be valued enough as an individual that your questions will be answered honestly even if the Admission Staff knows the truthful answer may not be what you want to hear. Remember, you are making a call to save your life not giving someone on the other end an opportunity to close a deal. Insurance does not pay for flights, waving of fees and deductible only means that the revenue has to be made up from somewhere or someone else, that someone else could be you. If services provided and allowable items are different on the phone than the programs website, you have a right and self-responsibility to ask why the difference without being challenged. One of the most critical elements to a successful treatment experience is honesty. This critical element will be missing if the admission process revolves around any kind of dishonesty. You should also expect to work with an organization that will inform you if they cannot meet your needs and they will provide you with direction to programs they have a collaborative relationship with to best meet your needs.

Today, I am an Admissions Manager and since my first and only admission all those years ago, I have been given the good fortune to not just experience the admission process once, or twice, or even 100 times but thousands of times. I remind myself on every call how I was treated on that first call with Sharon, and I am committed daily to respond the way she did. People calling, no matter what the motivator, just want to be heard without judgment and respected. Admissions staff is the first impression of the organization they establish the trust necessary for the individual to begin a process of a willingness to change. Being dishonest, pushy and unclear about expectations sets everyone up for failure.

Each time I work with an individual or family, it is a privilege to be the resource that helps them begin their new journey of sobriety. No two admissions are the same. I honor and respect the clients allowing them to experience their own journey with the admissions process the same as I was.

So as you consider treatment and you inquire about what program is the best fit for you. Remember that that person on the other line may have the one thing you need to help you begin again. One thing I can say that is true for me, every time I try anything that involves the admission process, I learn from it, I grow from it, and most of all I love it.

Nature and Mental Health at Harmony

Mental Health and Nature

On any given day at Harmony you can witness life’s challenges and know that a compassionate soul is there to help along the path of healing. The mental health professionals are part of a team at Harmony and work with clients in a way that combines the natural beauty of our campus with the intrinsic values of each client.

To further explain how we know being in nature can help heal, I’d like to share a study out of Stanford University which suggests that time spent in natural settings may improve brain health.

“As more and more of us live in cities, we spend less time in natural settings, including parks. Studies also show that people in urban settings without access to green spaces have higher levels of psychological problems than those with access to green spaces. Is there a definitive connection between time spent in green spaces and mental health? The answer is yes. In a series of two studies, Stanford researchers believe there is a connection between time spent in green spaces and a decrease in “morbid rumination,” what is more commonly thought of as brooding over the negative aspects of our lives.”

“This study investigated the impact of nature experience on affect and cognition. We randomly assigned sixty participants to a 50-min walk in either a natural or an urban environment in and around Stanford, California. Before and after their walk, participants completed a series of psychological assessments of affective and cognitive functioning. Compared to the urban walk, the nature walk resulted in affective benefits (decreased anxiety, rumination, and negative affect, and preservation of positive affect) as well as cognitive benefits (increased working memory performance). This study extends previous research by demonstrating additional benefits of nature experience on affect and cognition through assessments of anxiety, rumination, and a complex measure of working memory (operation span task). These findings further our understanding of the influence of relatively brief nature experiences on affect and cognition, and help to lay the foundation for future research on the mechanisms underlying these effects.”

The study further asks, what does this mean for everyone?

1. “Spend Time in Natural Settings – What can it hurt to take a daily walk in the park or spend time sitting on your back porch looking at the creek (if you’re lucky enough to have that situation)? Take your lunch to a natural setting and spend vacation time at least partially in the outdoors. Doing so will immediately improve your mental health.
2. Move – Movement is good for us. No doctor in the world says that it’s healthy to sit at home and do nothing. But instead of going to the gym, find a nature trail to hike or bike, golf, or take a stroll in the green belt. Even if you don’t get your heart rate up to aerobic activity levels, you’ll still mentally benefit from the movement.”

The healing journey for a client at Harmony can include a client expressing their emotions in a calmly lit room, moving forward on a walk to the river at Rocky Mountain National Park or learning a really cool coping skill. One of many examples of coping skills taught to clients is called 5,4,3,2,1 where one is taught to evoke all five senses. This is a great coping skill where a client is taught to tap into all 5 senses within as a viable resource. Another experience often happening at Harmony is witnessing clients as well as staff simply spending time with Cooper, our therapy dog.

As a mental health provider at Harmony, I have noticed clients seemingly more calm during sessions when we are taking a walk together in nature. I believe they appreciate the fact we are walking and talking side by side as opposed to sitting across from one another. Clients have stated, “Wow, this is better than sitting in an office, this is a nice place to get treatment.”

Since Harmony offers outings each week at an indoor climbing gym or hike in the park, depending on the weather, clients are able to take advantage of the natural beauty and the healing attributes of moving Harmony has to offer.

Harmony is a special place that helps client’s feel safe, accepted and cared about. For some on their path of healing it is a beginning, for others it is a renewal; for all whose path includes a stay at Harmony, it is a step toward healing in the arms of nature’s embrace.

Kelly Baker, MA, LAC, LPC, NCC
Mental Health Professional, Harmony Foundation, Inc.


Why Lindsay Lohan is Right

Why Lindsay Lohan is Right
Lindsay Lohan on Oprah, photo via 

When anything on Lindsay Lohan is written in newspapers or tabloids people’s eyes have grown accustomed to skimming or glossing over – because it is often the same story with slightly varied details about jails, rehabs, arrests, accidents and so forth.

However, in her interview this week on Oprah’s Next Chapter, Lohan sings a different tune, a tune that is actually right on the mark with regard to recovery – that others in early recovery from addiction can  resonate with.

The following excerpts are from Oprah’s 1st of many scheduled interviews with Lohan that aired this week :

Lohan: “I need to shut up and listen”

Why it is right: This self deprecating phrases is often considered essential for newcomers in 12 step meetings. It is not to say that the newcomer doesn’t have a voice, but rather they have a lot to learn. The way they have been living their lives – according to their will and their way, hasn’t worked. With this humble realization comes the greater realization that another way, not theirs, might be better – such as the way of those with more time in recovery, that newcomers can “shut up and listen” to.

Lohan: “I’m willing to do whatever it takes…and [to do] whatever people that have more experience than me in their recovery [have done]…”

Why it is right: Addicts do whatever it takes to get their drugs and alcohol. They go to great lengths to get high. When they become serious about their recovery, they do whatever it takes to stay sober. When an addict in early recovery says this, they are often held accountable by their own words, agreeing to take the suggestions of their sponsor, counselors or others in their recovery circle. This statement is bold and often represents a real surrendering to recovery. The bittersweet reality of this proclamation is that what it takes to stay sober is often enjoyable, such as showing up to meetings, communicating with others and being of service to others – often much more favorable than the conditions it took to score drugs.

Lohan: “I’ve been lucky and blessed enough to have been given a gift to share with other people…”

Why it is right: Those who live through their addiction and are able to make it to recovery, be it treatment or 12 step rooms, are blessed to be there. It is a gift, as there were so many circumstances and situations that could’ve taken their lives – from driving under the influence to the over consumption of substances. Those that have made it through and grasped recovery, realize it is a gift because many, many try to get sober and fail – and this motivates those that have the gift to share it with others.

We give Kudos to Lohan to have grasped these concepts and to be doing whatever it takes, including listening and being of service to others, to stay sober.

But there is something all-powerful that rules over the verbiage and vernacular of recovery or 12 step-meeting rooms – and that is action. After all is said and done, recovery is a program of action.

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“Drug Dreams” in Early Recovery

Have you ever had a terrible dream of loss or grief only to awake and feel immensely grateful that it was not true? Well this occurs quite frequently with addicts and alcoholics in early recovery such as those in addiction treatment centers. They experience “using dreams” or “drug dreams” that gallingly pop up at crucial moments of recovery.

Many of those who awake from a drug dream report being filled with gratitude that they have not picked up. They value the days, weeks and months that make up their sobriety and they wear their time sober as a badge of honor resembling hard work. Many dream that they have used, lost their sober time, let others around them down, and they experience feelings of guilt mixed with a murky darkness or impending doom. Just like anyone who has experienced a bad dream, they wake up thankful that it was only a dream.

Others report awaking with a feeling of relief but also find the dreams triggering. This is because they actually experience being “high” in their dreams, which may spark cravings the next day or a few days following the dream. The thought of being high in their dream permeates their waking hours and they find themselves suddenly preoccupied with using despite being strong in their resolve not to pick up just the day before. The dream then just seems downright unfair. For an addict’s hard work to be temporarily undermined by a using dream feels like putting salt on a wound.

There is limited research on why drug dreams occur or if certain groups experience them more often than others. However, some addiction treatment professionals say that drug dreams can indicate something positive – that they are the brain’s way of healing – of closing the gap between a painful and dramatic past with a serene future. With each dream the brain is healing – by reconciling the addict’s new way of living by playing out the past in a dream rather than in real life. Many believe the dreams occur more frequently in early sobriety because the brain is healing the most then. Using dreams may reappear at stressful times in life – sometimes even years after being sober – because the life situation may resemble something the sober brain has not conquered yet. However cumbersome and annoying using dreams might be, the bottom line is that they are just a dream and we can choose how we react to them. We can play into the disease of addiction by letting them be triggering, or we can let them fill us with gratitude that the brain is healing and we are sober in real life.

Relapse in the Public Eye

Over the past week the pain of relapse has been in the public eye, with an intervention staged on air for Andy Dick, Kelly Osbourne’s airplane meltdown and Pete Doherty’s cancelled performances and check-in to rehab.

Andy Dick has struggled with several relapses. His most recent relapse was made public when, during the filming of his new Internet show Andy Dick Live!, the CEO of the network warned him publicly “Everybody knows you have been going through your trials and tribulations…I told you the other day, if this continues, we can’t carry on. And if you decide to leave and not do that (check into rehab), I’m afraid that we can’t carry on here together.”  The emotional intervention followed by Dick’s willingness to go to back to treatment has been all over the Internet.

Also widely public was the alleged meltdown of Kelly Osbourne who reportedly got drunk on an airplane and had to be carried off by security. While she denied the incident initially, this week she admitted that her drinking was sparked by the painful feelings associated with her brother’s multiple sclerosis. She admitted, “on the plane I started looking at the website [a fan told her about]. It described how bad certain cases of MS got, and it made me lose it because I’ve sat through my mother having breast cancer, my dad almost dying from a bike accident, and now it’s my brother who’s my best friend.” Kelly Osbourne is in recovery from prescription painkiller addiction but has consumed alcohol since leaving rehab.

Another incident this week was indie–rocker Pete Doherty, co-front man of the Libertines, allegedly checking into a rehab in Thailand rather than performing at T in the Park in Kinross, a music festival in Scotland. Doherty has struggled with substance abuse for several years, and recently admitted being addicted to and using heroin and crack cocaine – deeming his previous visits to rehab unsuccessful.

These public displays serve as a good reminder of the numerous private displays of relapse that occur among those in recovery everyday. Relapse is a common and sometimes necessary part of recovery.  No matter how many times one has sought substance abuse treatment and relapsed, there is still hope. Treatment often plants a seed of how wonderful a life in recovery can be. Despite the devastation one experiences through a relapse, the seedling of hope can bring them back to a place of willingness to try again. Sometimes it is just a matter of getting help to re-focus and re-integrate back into a life of freedom from drugs and alcohol.

Luckily there are wonderful relapse treatment programs that exist for those who have a desire to get hooked back into a life of recovery.  Harmony’s primary goal is for clients to attain a lifetime of abstinence from alcohol and drugs. The focus of our
Brief Residential Program program is for the client to be able to identify issues of powerlessness and unmanageability that have led to a relapse.  Hopefully those who have relapsed in the public eye and the many who have privately are able to do the same.