By Aaron Mills 15 Dec, 2017
People who have experienced trauma are four times more likely to become an alcoholic. They are four times more likely to inject drugs, and three times more likely to be on anti-depressant drugs. These numbers are alarming, but even more alarming is that survivors of trauma are fifteen times more likely to commit suicide.

Trauma impacts a person’s life in many ways. Survivors are three times more likely to have serious problems at work, and to experience depression.

Decreased activity in the prefrontal lobe leads to less logical behavior and more impulsive behavior. Executive functioning becomes disengaged, adrenal glands release cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.

This has a physical manifestation as continued stress leads to weight gain, fatigue, hair loss, poor concentration, depression, infertility, and cold intolerance.

The digestive tract slows down and the heart and lungs are impacted because of the increased need for oxygen in a fight or flight situation.
People often wonder how someone can become a prisoner to repeated trauma, but Martin Seligman’s learned helplessness experiment gives us an idea of this has a long term frontal lobe effect. Essentially changing ones brain chemistry and keeping someone from using logic to escape their circumstances.

In this experiment painful shocks were given to trapped dogs. When the cages were opened the dogs just whimpered, but did not escape. When new dogs were put into the cages with working frontal lobes that were not impacted by trauma they escaped immediately.

This is a very sick experiment by any standard, but it gives us a clear window into the kinds of impulsive and non-logical component of trauma and its effect on behavior.

How many times have you heard someone say “addiction is not a disease it’s a choice”. We expect people to be rational actors in their own lives and in the choices they make.

In the case of people who have experienced trauma, logic is suppressed by the bodies self-defense and survival mechanisms.

Long term stressful situations create a long term decrease in frontal lobe activity. This produces havoc on the body and health in general.

When people experience trauma it can create a compulsion to repeat the trauma. This seems very strange at face value because it is not logical, but it is simple brain chemistry. The strong emotions shut down the frontal lobe and the body produces morphine like substances to face the challenge. The bodies own drug factory goes into play.

The brain remembers these strong chemicals, and seeks to return to this source of pain and pleasure. The anxiety a person is feeling can be resolved by returning to the trauma.

In addiction we see this kind of behavior on a regular basis. People want to create drama and turmoil in their lives, and the presence of the chaos puts their bodies into drug manufacturing mode and gets them high.

In essence the brain can become habituated or addicted to trauma.

The limbic system sees increased activity which leads to more emotion and anxiety. This puts a person in a situation where emotions trump reason. Logic is out the window.
By Jodi MacNeal 12 Dec, 2017
That was the day I took receipt of 596 of the prettiest cookies you’d ever want to see. Enormous, elegant silver-and-white snowflakes, teeny Christmas trees, and cheerful snowmen, each hand-crafted for Desert Rose by an artist/baker in Southern California (Jen, from Sugary Sweet Cookies ).

Until then, the cookies in my path had been easy to ignore:
  1. Platter of shrink-wrapped grocery store cookies, probably baked in 2011. Meh.
  2. Those Danish butter cookies that come in the blue tin. Wouldn’t walk two steps out of my way for those.
  3. Fresh chocolate-dipped almond cookies from a local Italian bakery, hand-delivered by a professional acquaintance. Those had the potential to be trouble, so I handed them off immediately to our clinical director.
But then roughly 50 dozen fresh-baked cookies, each individually wrapped, arrived for our in-house Sober Cookie™ Challenge. For the first time, it dawned on me: Not only are these morsels going to live in my office for a week or more, it’s my job to transfer every single one into our Christmas gift boxes. Oh, dear.

I voiced that tiny bit of personal anguish to one of our therapists. “So you failed to think through the consequences of your action,” she observed. “That’s pretty standard behavior in addiction.” I didn’t know that before. Yet another thing this challenge has taught me.

A half-hour later, our director of operations – who is not doing the challenge, the coward – begged a cookie. He took one bite and rolled his eyes in ecstasy. “Oh, MAN, that’s delicious. Want a bite? Just one little taste? One won’t hurt you.” His point was not subtle.

I didn’t crumble that day, nor the next. But it came really close. Our office was virtually deserted Friday as I worked on our holiday boxes, and those cookies started calling. Not the perfect ones, but the very few that had crumbled a bit in transit and can’t be given away. Those would have been the ones I’d have scarfed down without thinking, pre-SCC.

So instead I went home a little early and had some chocolate. I realize the hypocrisy of that. I can stay true to the Sober Cookie™ Challenge as long as I don’t eat a cookie… but I can get sugar 100 other ways. An alcoholic can’t play by those rules. She can’t give up her daily beers, but allow herself a shot of vodka when the cravings kick in.

We’ve never said that giving up cookies is the same thing as staying clean from drugs or alcohol. Not remotely close. What we have maintained is that it would give the rest of us a glimpse of the hard and endless work of staying sober. I can now say I’ve failed to consider the consequences of my actions, I’ve faced peer pressure and the physical pangs of cravings, I’ve had to take evasive action more than once, and the only thing that’s stopped me is the accountability I feel to others doing the challenge with me. Awareness, 5. Cookies, 0.

By Jodi MacNeal 08 Dec, 2017
Amy* reached out through our Desert Rose Facebook page to ask a fascinating question. She works at a university and wants to share the Sober Cookie™ Challenge with college students in recovery. But she has one reservation:
By Aaron Mills 07 Dec, 2017

We compiled a list of the most addicting video games of the recent past. Just because they’re addicting, doesn’t make them terrible and something that should be avoided. Don’t forget, it’s not the game’s fault...there is no addicting substances in video games that make people addicted. If you find yourself or someone you love is addicted to video games, seek treatment at an addiction recovery center that offers treatment for video game addiction.

By Aaron Mills 07 Dec, 2017

A lot of people are abusing prescription drugs, and have been for a long time. Most of these people aren’t even teens. In fact, the latest reports cite that middle aged people are most likely to abuse prescription drugs. We’ve covered a lot of different views on prescription drugs and drug addiction, but something that is often swept under the rug is the widespread abuse of over the counter (OTC) drugs. Here, we’re going to take a look at some of the common OTC drugs that teens are abusing, so you can be aware of the dangers that may be lurking in your medicine cabinet.

By Jodi MacNeal 06 Dec, 2017

Most every day about this time, I brew a cup (fresh-ground Peet’s Major Dickason blend) and I treat myself to a biscotti. Nonni’s triple-chocolate, unless I’ve recently baked a batch of the spiced chocolate variety I love best.

But today it’s just a big, red mug of coffee, because I’m on Day Five of the Desert Rose Sober Cookie™ Challenge. It’s tempting to exempt my biscotti (it’s not a cookie, it’s an Italian biscuit!), but I’m holding true to the spirit of the challenge.

My coffee’s lonely, and I feel the tiniest sense of emptiness as well. I’m not going to get those 10 grams of sugar that boost my mood and my energy and help me over the finish line of the work day. I miss the anticipation of the first chocolate-y bite, the daily dilemma – to dunk or not to dunk? – and the way I try to make my cookie/biscuit last for five bites instead of four.

People in recovery, I’m told, sometimes miss their drugs in this way. They miss the anticipation of using. They miss the sensation of the first hit or the first sip, and the familiar feeling of being under the drug’s influence. It’s like my longing for an afternoon biscotti, times about a million.

I’m doing this challenge to look for insight. To look for common ground with the people I see come in our doors each day. What I’m trying to do – what I hope everyone taking the Sober Cookie™ Challenge is trying to do – is to blur the line between “us” and “them.”

I’m as flawed a human being as the woman who’s trying to quit booze or the guy who’s in his tenth trip to rehab. I don’t know the pull of drugs or alcohol. That’s not because of anything I did or didn’t do. That’s just by the grace of God.

Today’s bit of awareness, for me, is to remember how much people can miss the rituals surrounding their drug use, even as they work to be free. We build our lives around rituals and habits. Is relapse any wonder?

I never understood relapse before I came to work at Desert Rose rehab just a few months ago. Like so many others, I thought addiction was a kind of stubbornness. I was so wrong. I feel ashamed for ever having thought that.

The people who come through our program, the ones who are really ready to do the work, are as brave as anybody you’ll ever meet. Anybody who’s come out of addiction into lasting recovery is worthy of respect for that achievement. The Sober Cookie™ Challenge is a tribute to every one of them.

By Jodi MacNeal 01 Dec, 2017

It’s rare for a small rehab center to have a writer on staff. A lot of places have huge marketing departments, but that’s not us. Desert Rose invests in people, not advertising.

I’m here to capture the stories of our clients, to put resources in the hands of people who need them, and to find thoughtful ways to share the world of addiction and recovery.

It’s the best part of my day when a young person – and they’re pretty much all young ­– sits on the little white loveseat in my office to tell me their story. It’s also usually the toughest, because of everything they’ve gone through. To a one, they’ve been brave, vulnerable and honest.

Not long ago, I sat with someone who is strong, straight-talking, and smart. Like most of our clients, there was a long history of family dysfunction, alcoholism, drugs, relapse, and trauma.

But clearly there was something else, something that took a couple hours to get to. It was an anguish about a deeply personal matter, along with the fear that no one – not parents, not friends, not even this loving Desert Rose community – would understand. We talked and cried, and finally went our separate ways.

 As I drove home, I thought a lot about how we all just want to be understood . How, I wondered, could I possibly grasp what it’s like to fight every day to stay clean and sober?

Sugar. That could be the key to understanding. We’re just about to enter the season when sugar is everywhere . What if I said I wouldn’t eat a single Christmas cookie, so I could feel the cravings and temptations, and fight my brain’s deep desire for the dopamine rush? What if we asked everyone to take that pledge?

So the Sober Cookie™ Challenge was born.

I’m not a scientist, but I’m told that sugar stimulates the same pleasure receptors in the brain as drugs and alcohol, though to a far lesser degree. Not only will that cookie taste good, it will feel good. And your brain tells you another cookie will feel even better. And so on.

When you’re stressed or when you’re depressed or when you’re sad, the sugar in that cookie is going to give you a pick-me-up. If you’re hurting, it might numb your pain for a few seconds. You crave it. In the long run, it’s not very good for you.

In other words, it’s a drug, of sorts.

Now, hear me: I cannot know what an addict’s life is like just because I’m vowing to give up cookies for a few weeks . The Sober Cookie™ Challenge isn’t meant to make light of the life-and-death nature of addiction. We’re not suggesting that giving up a sugar cookie is the same thing as giving up heroin or scotch. It’s my worst fear that somebody’s going to misunderstand our motive, take offense, or be hurt.

Instead, it all just comes back to that young person who sat in my office, crying out to be understood. Here’s what I’d like to say to that courageous soul: You inspired this challenge. Everyone who joins this movement wants to understand, in the tiniest possible way, what it’s like for you to stay clean and sober. We love you, we care, and you are not alone.

By Aaron Mills 28 Nov, 2017

As we continue to make progress in recovery, we must eventually face the reality of the harm we have done to other peoples lives as a direct result of our actions.

In simple terms, we can’t have the opportunity for forgiveness until we take ownership of the damage that we have done.

We do this for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do. But the impact of making amends extends so much further, and no matter why else we do it, we do it for ourselves and our own future wellbeing.

Living with shame and guilt is one of the best ways to guarantee a relapse. When we come face to face with what we have done to other people, and their lives, it leads to feelings of sadness, remorse, and shame. This is a normal human response to doing something wrong. We are indeed meant to feel guilty for hurting other people.

This is the ground zero moment when we can begin to forgive ourself for abusing other people. It is also the moment when we can decide to try and mend the broken relationships left in the wake of our addiction.

By Aaron Mills 22 Nov, 2017
By Aaron Mills 21 Nov, 2017

Relapse is not a stage in the forward progress of recovery, but a regression into the addiction. Addicts may relapse from any stage of motivation for a variety of reasons.

Internationally known addiction and relapse expert Terry Gorski suggests that this is an inside-out process with changes in internal thinking leading to external lapses. At times, great upheaval in the outside world may also contribute to the process. The truth is that addictions are baffling and cunning; nothing and everything may be the cause.

Another truth, however, is that most people are very simple in their relapse; it is usually the same people, places, and things that lead to relapses. Along the way, each addict develops his or her own unique way to relapse. Noting this and then discovering what that pattern looks like  is a great way to avoid it.

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