When the Holidays Aren't so Jolly

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As the holiday season looms, many of us turn our thoughts to family and friends.  This can be particularly difficult when you are grieving the loss of a loved one.  It can trigger sadness, loneliness, loss, and anger.

Planning and preparing for the holidays requires a lot of energy. Be aware that grief can often drain you of that energy.  Sometimes we feel a pressure to “do” the holidays, the way we have always done them.  Bear in mind, it is absolutely okay to do things differently—it might be just for now or it might not.  The number one thing is to be gentle with yourself.

Decide as a family or on your own what would make these 2017 holidays meaningful. Be aware of the pressures and demandsand realize that you are under no obligation to do what others expect.  Consider planning some “down time” to regroup, as needed, but be careful not to isolate yourself.

Here are some ideas to cope with the holiday season and navigating your grief.

You can take care of yourself:

• Try to remember what you have as well as what you have lost.

• Take note that the anticipation and worry about the holidaysis usually worse than the actual day itself.

• Plan for what you want to do and what you don’t want to do…it is your choice. You do have some control.

• If you are planning for your family, decide what is right for you all NOW…talk about how it can change next year if you all choose for it to.It can help to stay focused on the present.

• Start a new holiday tradition. It could help symbolize moving forward.  It could also be an acknowledgment of the depth of your loss.

• Make a list or two: remember when you are grieving, your memory and concentration may still be impacted, so use the tools you have to compensate.

• Remember that tears and sadness for the lossare to be expected, but it does not have to ruin the joy that can also be experienced. It’s just more complicated.

• Express to others what you want or need during the holidays.  They likely want to help, but don’t know how.

• Share holiday tasks and responsibilities.

• Do something for someone else…perhaps honor those you grieve with a charitable donation. This can help you get unstuck at times.

Take care of yourself around the holidays:

• Get plenty of rest

• Get plenty nutrition

• Get some kind of physical activity or exercise daily

• Avoid excessive alcohol or drug use

• Stay connected with others

• Allow yourself to laugh

• Breathe

• Remember, just because you always have, doesn’t meant you always have to.

Here’s an event this holiday season that could help, hosted by us and our good friends at NAMI:

Coping With The Holiday Blues: December 7th by NAMI

to schedule an appointment with Robyn Strelitz, LMFT, call 512-434-0868.    

 

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What Cheesecake Taught Me about Gratitude.

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Modified Pixabay/CC0

When I was in the fourth grade, I learned an enduring lesson on gratitude. At the time, I was only interested in two things. Television and food. As you can imagine, that meant that my physique left much to be desired, but luckily, I wasn’t too concerned with that at the time.

I went to a private catholic school and my homeroom teacher was Sister Theresa. She was kind and loving but she sure as hell didn’t take any lip. It was the last day of school before the Thanksgiving break and we were having our very own feast! I don’t want to get all George R.R. Martin about it, but there was pizza, chips, soda, cookies, candy, and, most importantly to young Joseph, cheesecake! I had been fantasizing about this cheesecake all week and I anxiously watched as Sister Theresa made the rounds placing a piece of cheesecake on each student’s desk.

When she finally stood before me and placed my cheesecake upon my desk, my heart sank. It was not the glorious slice of creamy goodness I had envisioned, but merely a small bite sized morsel. Sister Theresa saw the look on my face and immediately asked what was wrong.

“It’s just a bite size piece.” I said.

Without a moment’s hesitation, she grabbed my slice of cheesecake, placed it back in the box, and continued distributing to the rest of the class. Eventually, she sat back down at her desk and beckoned to me. As I walked up with my head hung low, I noticed that sitting on her desk sat one solitary piece of cheesecake. My heart skipped a beat.

She asked, “Do you know why I took back your piece of cheesecake?”

I nodded while trying to hide a smile because I just knew she was going to give me back my cheesecake when she was done chastising me for being ungrateful.

She continued, “There are people in this world who don’t ever get dessert. They don’t even have time to worry about cheesecake because they are busy trying to figure where they are going to sleep and how they are going to afford their next meal.”

I began to cry.

“I want you to go back to your desk and think about all the things you have to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.” She concluded.

Then I walked back to my desk in shock. I couldn’t believe she didn’t give me the cheesecake! I don’t know when exactly I grasped what she was trying to teach me that day. But, today as I try my best to raise two young boys and help addicts find new life, I often think back to Sister Theresa and can’t help but smile because today I understand.

Why is gratitude so powerful?

Today, I understand what gratitude is all about. You see, I am a person in long-term recovery. Nine and a half years ago, I was dying of a severe addiction to IV heroin and found my way to a treatment center to be separated from alcohol and drugs for the last time.Every day I wake up grateful to be safe and sober. I am grateful for those that came before me and all the amazing people that have come into my life. I am grateful to have my family of origin back. I am grateful for my wife, the two boys we are raising together, and the little baby girl that is on the way. I’m also grateful to be working in a field in which I get to help other people change their lives as well.

I am a Licensed chemical dependency counselor and the president of the Austin Chapter of the Texas Association of Addiction professionals. I am also the Director of Outreach for an amazing program that helps people recover from addiction. It’s called Recovery Unplugged. Recovery Unplugged takes the best practices in addiction treatment and combines them with music and music therapy to facilitate a deeper emotional understanding, emotional expression, and recover!

Today my life is so full of things to be grateful for that I am often at a loss for words.

But, I still think about that cheesecake sometimes…

We are grateful to have this guest article written by Joseph Gorordo, a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor in Austin.  

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The Power of Intention

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Pixabay/CC0

We can all benefit from being a bit more intentional.

Intentional in our thoughts, intentional in our actions and intentional with our relationships. I recently wrote about how saying no more often could be a benefit to you and your family. Intentional thinking is like that. It takes the notion of saying no a little further.

Being clear and direct with your intentions is setting a personal boundary that is about self-care and living authentically. We will always be challenged by life’s obstacles and the pace at which we live.

I have to constantly work to be intentional with my thoughts, actions and energy. When I don’t take the time to check in with myself I find that I am living for other people’s intentions or accommodating someone else’s value/belief system. I have to ask myself, what kind of mom do I want to be today? next week? How do I want others to respond to me? What can I do better? What are my hopes for my family today and in 10 years? Are my husband and I taking enough time to focus on our relationship? I know many people that do daily guided meditations or devotionals, some use their yoga practice to set intention and stay grounded, others use various forms of mindfulness (intention is arguably a facet of mindfulness, depending on who you ask or what you read). Figure out what works for you. I’m still trying to figure out my own work-life balance as a new (ish) mom, between logistical time constraints and navigating new roles in our family I haven’t found a yoga practice, daily devotional or mediation that I can stick with. What works for me is taking a couple of minutes, alone, every morning to set my intentions. My intentions are simple, Lead with love. Practice patience and practice gratitude. When I remind myself to do these three things, my perception of everyone around me changes. I’m more centered.I have more empathy for others and am less hard on myself.

 So why is intention important?

Because it can keep you grounded. Grounded in your values, goals and hopes for the future. Our culture revolves around constantly tackling goals and meeting milestones. Not to mention the large cultural discourse that is constantly placing unsolicited expectations on us about what defines professional success, healthy adjusted children, relationship “goals,”  and a life cycle timeline of when its appropriate to realize certain milestones — just to name a few!  Using intention as a daily part of your routine can keep you grounded and rooted in what is important to YOU- not everyone else. The power of intention is also that its a reminder to focus on what you can ACTUALLY change.

 Is there a difference between intention and mindfulness?

Define intention anyway you want, I think it’s a notion that applies across a number of contexts. Intention is action. Mindfulness is awareness. Mindfulness is about more awareness than action. I feel more authentic and grounded when I can count on myself to act and to act intetionally. I allow intention to ground me, I allow it to simplify my energy and create space for emotional experience and relationships.

 How can intention impact my family?

In a highly reactive culture it sometimes feels like we don’t have control. Intention is controlling your responses and the energy you put into relationships. Sharpening your intentions and becoming more thoughtful in your interactions can directly impact your family and relationships. Clear and direct intentions create an emotional climate in a family that welcomes the full range of emotional expression. A supervisor once asked me what my goals were for the summer. I said, “Work on my marriage, start eating healthier and exercising, grow my private practice, start trying for a baby, take three trips, train my dog to be a service dog, and run a marathon.” He laughed— good luck! His advice was to simplify my goals and be more intentional; he also had the idea that in general, we can only be great at a handful or less things at once. We simply don't have the resources to excel at everything, all the time. You can only do so many things at once. So, I decided to focus on three things instead of a bucket list of things. Simplifying my intentions allowed me to focus on what I could realistically accomplish and accomplish well. We can’t do it all- and if you're trying to, it might be at the expense of the feelings of those around you.

Find the three things you can focus on for the remainder of the year. Do those things well. Then reassess. Practice intention and make it a habit.

Lead with love. Practice patience and practice gratitude.

To schedule an appointment with Caroline Harris, LMFT-Associate, call 512-915-3063. 

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There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays

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Perry Como sings us his classic Christmas song each year, “Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays...la la la la...”bringing us all into to the holiday season and spirit. Christmas music fills the radio stations, holiday themed shows occupy the major networks, and shopping lists are being built. The Santa station was set up in the mall evenbefore Halloween to remind us to GET READY because it is that time of year again, the holidays!

In my conversations with my clients it is clear the holiday may bring warm feelings of happiness, as many know that it is a time to spend with family and friends. Some find themselves using this time of year to look back on all of the accomplishments from the current year and then looking forward to the upcoming year. The holidays are often seen as the time to shop all the good deals, eat all of the good food, and watch all the good holiday classics. For some, however, the holidays may start out this way, and then they go home for the holidays. Or even just the thought of the holidays immediately causes anxiety!

Many people find that their separate life from their family is balanced and orderlyonly until they return home to their families. There is something about walking through that front door that triggers old feelings of angst with family members (or with yourself) causing you to feel like the confidence you once had is now uprooted. Now that balance has turned to emotional chaos and anxiety, stress, and overall unhappiness can be the result. It is not uncommon for all of those unresolved issues to suddenly resurface just in time for when the turkey is to be served or the presents to be opened. The emotional stressors you have been trying to avoid are staring you and that turkey right in the face.

If you are connecting with this, you are not alone. Manyof my clients struggle with this and we talk about the a concept of “going home again.” This is a concept from a family therapist that reminds us that there are ingrained issues and differences from our families that we can overlook when we are on our own as individuals but they tend to resurface when going home again. Maybe there are old unresolved issues, challenging family dynamics, insecurities or just general differences that you are able to overlook when rolling solo, but not so much when around family.

If you feel like every holiday season creates similar obstacles for you I think approaching this holiday with this motto may help:

Don't react. Respond. 

So what’s a good way to react? The good way to react is to not react at all! I love this passage from the book, “Boundaries”by Dr.Henry Cloud and James Townsend:

When you react to something that someone says or does, you may have a problem with boundaries. If someone is able to cause havoc by doing or saying something, she is in control of you at that point ad your boundaries are lost. When you respond, you remain in control, with opinions and choices.

Start to plan ahead 

Think about what potential triggers may exist when you go home for the holidays and have a game plan for what you are going to do if you’re feeling the inner turmoil or urge to react. I think the most helpful tip is to step away from what is triggering you to find a place to calm down. I think it is good to look inward and focus on all you are proud of versus all you aren’t during this moment.

Staying around family when triggered may unfortunately lead to your family members causing you to say or do something you really hoped to avoid- which only violates your separateness. Now isn’t the time to solve all the family’s issues or differences, rather it is a time to be together (but as separate individuals) celebrating the holidays.

When you react, they are in control but when you respond, you are in control.

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays…with all the good and all the bad...so now it is time to return home being emotionally prepared for what home may bring. Start setting those emotional boundaries now!

To schedule an appointment with Mandi Roarke, LMFT-Associate, call 512-537-0995

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How to Live with Loss.

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Pixabay/CC0

I recently experienced a loss that was hard to shake. Because I felt it, I had to go through the typical steps that, because I’m a therapist, I know to go through. But it still hurt. I’m supposed to know how this goes. I’m supposed to have it all together, but that’s not the way life works. Regardless of what your loss is – person, place or thing – the way we experience loss can be powerful and it’s important you know how to handle it.

For this reason, I thought I'd share some of the important lessons I've learned in coping with the grief that loss creates.

Acknowledge what was lost and what it meant to lose it.

I lost a job. It sounds silly (even to me), maybe even ridiculous that I’m choosing to talk about a job loss rather than what some might have expected – the passing of a loved one or the ending of a relationship – but to me this job had a greater significance than just a place I went to punch a clock (if people even do that anymore). This job afforded me close and personal friendships, daily experience into a field of psychology I now love working in, financial stability for my wife and I’s future plans and a sense of pride – because dammit I was great at my job. So, naturally when I was informed that I was being let go I was a bit shocked (and sad, angry, anxious, scared, excited, discouraged, distressed, embarrassed, and about fifty other emotions).

I didn’t know what to do. I’m a therapist, yes, but I’m also human and in that moment my training and education went out the window and suddenly all I saw was my insecurities and fears – I was a failure, I was weak, and I was letting the ones I love down. Not a particularly fun ocean of thought to play in, especially if you stay in it for too long it can start to feel like you’re drowning.

Open yourself to others and allow yourself to feel/grieve

After the initial shock of loss there is a tendency to do one of two things: sit in the middle of the metaphorical ocean slowly drowning form an overwhelming number of emotions and thoughts left in its wake or bury those emotions deep down and tell yourself to get on with your life. I tried the former, attempting to disconnect from my emotions through the guise of logic, thinking my focus needed to be on finding a replacement for the things I lost. I made it my mission to occupy my time with meet-ups, interviews and/or anything that would keep me busy (aka distracted). I knew better but again, I’m human. It wasn’t until my wife made a comment – about how well I was handling the job loss – and then asked how I was really feeling that I realized what I was doing. Of course, after a meeting with a few friends… therapist friends… the following day doubly confirmed that I needed to do what I do for my clients; take a few days/weeks to work through all the emotions I had neglected and reach out to others when I needed support or started to feel overwhelmed.

Living with loss is simple, but very difficult.

Acknowledge it, feel it and talk about it. That’s it. I don’t intend for that to sound easy, because I know it’s not. To use the ocean metaphor again, loss comes in waves and just as I described before; at first it can feel like you’re drowning but, as you begin to open up and talk about your loss those waves will hit you less hard and less frequent. The last thing I want to leave you with is something that absolutely needs to be said.

There is no timeline to understanding, acknowledging and living with loss. There is no manual, book or person that says you need to be at that shoreline by a certain date or time. As I’ve already said, loss can be a powerful influence on your life and it’s important that you take the time you need and reach out to the people you trust to successfully work through it.

To schedule an appointment with Kendall Campbell, LMFT-Associate, call 512-920-3654.

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Six Boundaries that Can Change Your Life

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Why are boundaries important?

Last month, my colleague, Caroline, shared with you the purpose and benefits of saying “no” and it’s absolute importance when setting healthy boundaries in her blog post, "When Saying No is Actually Saying Yes." She helped us recognize and acknowledge our feelings around setting effective boundaries and in the process sparked additional intrigue for me…how do we know what healthy boundaries are and how do we know how they’ve been crossed?

To help us build this emotional intelligence and self-awareness, it’s helpful to explore the moments that you are feeling that distress to discover what boundary violations are occurring. Understanding these six types of boundaries will help us establish healthier boundaries with others and cultivate a healthier sense of self overall.

What kinds of boundaries are there?

1. Physical

These boundaries include personal space and physical touch. Has anyone ever rummaged through your purse without asking or hugged you after just meeting them? Do either of these examples make you squirm? That reactivity is your body telling you a physical boundary, whether it’s your personal body space or your personal environment, has been violated. You’re likely to welcome a hug from a long-time friend over a stranger on the street, just as you are likely to be more comfortable allowing your daughter to grab your phone out of your purse than you might be with a passerby in the store. Healthy physical boundaries include an awareness of what’s appropriate in varying settings and relationships.

2. Emotional

These boundaries refer to our feelings, including our expressiveness of them. These can be violated when we are criticized or invalidated. Has anyone ever said to you “there’s no reason to be upset” or “you’re making a big deal out of nothing.” Even if they’re trying to console you, this can feel damaging and leave us feeling unheard and dismissed. You’re likely to be more vulnerable and confide in a friend who has been through multiple life transitions with you compared to a blind date that you’re meeting for the first time. Healthy emotional boundaries include personal limitations we set for sharing personal information, which includes when this information is shared and with whom.

3. Intellectual

These boundaries are slightly less obvious, yet likely happen more often than we think. Intellectual boundaries refer to our thoughts and ideas and are often violated when someone dismisses or belittles them. Have you ever had an idea you were excited about that was quickly shut down by someone you shared it with, leaving you feeling like you wanted to hide in a hole for weeks afterwards? Or maybe you’ve shared some insight on a political topic (who hasn’t these days) and been berated about it from an opposing party? It happens all the time. Healthy intellectual boundaries will include respectfulness and a willingness to understand not only one’s own ideas and values but others as well, even if they are opposing of our own.

4. Sexual

These boundaries compile the physical, emotional and intellectual aspects of sexuality. What does this mean? Essentially any unwanted sexual touch, ogling from others, sexual comments, or pressure to engage in sexual acts can qualify as a destruction of a sexual boundary. Curious about what the #MeToo movement represents? This is it folks – violated sexual boundaries. Healthy sexual boundaries will include consent, mutual agreement, respect and understanding of limits and desires that have been discussed between intimate or sexual partners.

5. Material

These boundaries refer to personal possessions. Does someone you know always ask to borrow money but never pay you back? Or maybe you lent your friend an iPad and they returned it broken? When someone pressures you to give or lend them your possessions or steals, damages or destroys your possessions, the boundary has likely been violated. Healthy material boundaries include limitations on what you choose to share and with whom.

6. Time

These boundaries reference how we use our time. These boundaries are a bit trickier to notice but are very apparent all the same. They are often violated when someone demands too much of another’s time. Do you find yourself always setting aside your own plans because a friend constantly wants to hang out instead? Or maybe your partner gives you grief for trying to take time for yourself or hang out with friends? Healthy time boundaries can be implemented by setting aside time for the various facets of our lives including work, hobbies and relationships in consideration of your values and priorities.

How to establish boundaries

These boundaries can seem tedious when we reflect on just how many variables cultivate our initial reactivity. But there’s a notable difference to negotiate. The dynamic of the environment or relationship for each is important for us to note in order to help us set clearer healthier boundaries overall. But how do we do this?

You know your body better than anyone else and if you are experiencing distress, it’s likely that a boundary is being crossed. Your boundaries are unique to you and they’re going to likely look different than others around you based on your comfort level with varying relationships, environments and culture.

Listen to what your body is telling you, be curious about the situation that’s evoking the overwhelm and as Caroline reminds us, “check-in if you’re emotionally exhausted or over-committed…slow down and re-asses.” Tune into your feelings, practice assertively addressing your limits, and take care of yourself along the way. This awareness will go a long way with helping you implement healthy boundaries for a happier and healthier sense of self.

To schedule an appointment with Alyssa Cornett, MA, LMFT-Associate, call 737-226-3803.

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Arrested Development: When Adult Children Depend on Their Parents

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Gratisography/CC0

Differentiation is the process of becoming different.

In psychology, differentiation refers to the process of becoming different than our parents and independent of our family of origin (so far as independence is dictated in each specific culture). This process takes place from birth to young adulthood—often hitting some rocky moments in adolescence.

We’ve all seen or experienced a young girl wanting to do everything her mother does until that same young teenager suddenly decide she hates everything mom likes, only to have that young adult settle in with a distinct identity, one that is allowed to both identity and disagree with mom, unlike the earlier phases which could only do one or the other. This emotional differentiation allows us to become our own people—separate from our parents.

But emotional differentiation isn’t the only thing we need to be happy, healthy adults.

We must also grapple with the increasing freedom and responsibility that come with growing up. It means that, yes, while getting to drive your own car is an exhilarating milestone, so too is the less-enjoyable milestone of paying for your own car insurance. Parents and society alike generally participate in the differentiation process by balancing increasing privileges with increasing obligation and accountability as children grow up.

When this process occurs, the adult child becomes independent from his parents. He or she “launches” and becomes a responsible contributor to society, solving problems on their own, and often forming their own family units.

What happens when adult children don't differentiate?

When this process doesn't occur as it should, adult children depend on their parents physically, financially, or even emotionally. This dependence can take many forms. At times adult children may still live with their parents and be unable to hold down steady employment. They may live by themselves and rely on parents to pay their bills or arrange their affairs (such as doctor’s appointments, etc.).

When adult children become emotionally enmeshed, an adult child may be financially independent but continue to be overly dependent on the intervention or control of a parental figure. Think of a father’s demand that a son behave a certain way or lose his place in the family business, or a mother that demands through guilt trips to be the center of her adult child’s young family.

It's hard to know exactly why children struggle to differentiate, because each story is unique. But it's likely that one of two dynamics is at play:

(1) there is an emotional need in the parent that inadvertently drives them to keep their child dependent; or

(2) there is a disability, illness, or behavioral problem that prevents the child from scaling the normal ladder of titrating freedom and responsibility, leaving parents to perpetually care for them well into adulthood.

When parents have an emotional need for enmeshment, we often see a parent that “needs to be needed” and afraid or ill equipped to face what will be destroyed or left should the adult child stop needing them.

For some parents, they are afraid to be alone; for others, they have developed such a strong identity of being a caregiver, teacher, and manager for their children they have long forgotten how to be anyone else. Therefore, when their adult children no longer need their care or guidance, they feel lost and empty. In extreme cases, a parent may have a disturbing need for power and control that would be lost if their children were independent of them, or a parent may suffer from a mental health issue that demands a constant need for extreme closeness or involvement with their adult children.

What about illness or trauma?

When a child experiences an illness, disability, or behavioral problem that necessitates care, the easiest example would be a mentally or physically disabled child who cannot physically care for themselves. This places the parent in the eternal caregiver role. This is neither right nor wrong, good nor bad. In some cases, these adult children will always need care, and as long as the parent is maintaining their own life and health there is nothing inherently unhealthy about their child’s continued dependence.

Even in the case of a disability, a parent may depend more than they need to. Such is the case I encountered once of a mother who was still caring for her daughter who was on the spectrum. The daughter was relatively high functioning but still at the age of 26 lived at home, did not work, and accompanied her mother everywhere. It seemed to me that she believed her child to be less capable of independent life (or at least some aspects of it) than she truly was.

Finally, when behavioral health challenges stunt a child’s normal ascent into responsible adulthood, the entire family (but especially the parents) can become trapped in a vicious cycle. This cycle is one in which their fear of the now-adult child’s inability to act responsibly prompts them to take care of all of the adult child’s responsibilities for them. This, unfortunately, has the effect of preventing the adult child from the normal balance of freedom and accountability that actually teaches the responsibility he or she lacks. Simply put, we learn to pay our car payment when our car gets repossessed; we learn that bills are serious when our lights are turned off; and we learn to stop being an asshole when we discover that no one wants to be around an asshole. 

So what do I do?

If you are a parent struggling with allowing your children to become independent, the best thing you can do is seek out quality counseling for yourself. Identifying what may be driving your participation in the arrested adolescence of your adult child is the first step to ending the cycle—and truly helping your child. If your child suffers from addiction there are a multitude of programs, many of them free, that can help you establish healthy boundaries and learn tools to help your adult child become independent.

Resources for families:

·      Free documentary on how families deal with addiction.

·      Support groups for families dealing with addiction via Families Anonymous.

·      Confidential individual and family counseling.

This article was written as a guest post by KC Davis, LPC-Intern. Contact KC at 972-900-9001.

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Addiction is the Legacy of Trauma

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Studies reveal that between 50 and 96% of substance abusers seeking treatment report experiencing trauma.

Up to 34% of people receiving substance abuse treatment have a co-existing PTSD diagnosis. That’s GIGANTIC! But it makes sense, doesn’t it?  If every breath you took came with unbearable thoughts of past traumas, you would likely do anything to ease that burden.

 How Does Trauma Affect You?

Trauma of any kind has the power to crack and skew the lens through which you view the world and yourself, making everything appear off. When I work with those in recovery I often hear a similar story; I went through hell and [insert drug/substance] was the only thing that I found that worked and kept me alive. As someone in recovery once told me, “it was drugs or death and I chose to live.” Now, not all in addiction have experienced trauma and use substances to escape that trauma, but it’s certainly a major factor that needs to be addressed in treatment.

What is Trauma and What Does it look like?

Trauma can be anything. It can be sexual assault, domestic violence, and war – each of which are widely discussed and shown through media. But it can also be the loss of a loved one, infidelity, or divorce. It’s any deeply distressing, disturbing or even embarrassing event/experience that causes a person to shift how they view themselves or the world around them.

When this shift has happened it’s not always obvious. You might know a few side effects like nightmares, flashbacks, and hypervigilance from movies like Saving Private Ryan or even Iron Man 3 (yes, I am a nerd, I need to put this here). What you might not see are some of the more subtle signs that someone is dealing with trauma; two of which I’m about to discuss.

If you read my previous article about signs of addiction relapse, I discussed the acronym AA (Attitudes and Actions) as a simple way of recognizing warning signs of relapse. Looking at someone’s attitudes and actions can also be a way of identifying trauma/PTSD.

Two subtle ways Trauma changes a person

Mood

Sometimes these shifts in mood can be obvious – intense irritability, fits of anger/rage, sadness, and/or anxiety– however the mood change I’d like to highlight is what I call the void. It’s an absence or minimized version of emotions. A feeling of being disconnected or numb. It might feel like the person is looking through you rather than at you – like a thousand-yard stare. If this mood change sounds familiar it’s because this void, or feeling of disconnection and/or numbness, can also be a symptom of depression.

Behavior

The next subtle sign of trauma is isolation. This can literally be a person physically removing themselves from others – their co-workers, friends, families and loved ones – but it can also mean emotional isolation. The subtle sign is the latter of the two. When someone is emotionally isolating you might feel as if you’re only connecting with a fraction of who they are, like there’s so much more to be revealed. This isn’t necessarily by choice; trauma is powerful and even if the event/experience occurred years in the past it can still occupy/impact one’s thoughts.

Why Understanding Trauma and Addiction is Important

I started this article discussing trauma in terms of how it relates and affects those in addiction. I want to end by stating that like addiction, trauma is far reaching and affects more than people than we might like to admit. Just like addiction, trauma can impact every aspect of a person’s life, from their relationships (family, friends, significant others) to occupations (careers and school). Once again, I’d like to ask you to take what you’ve learned today and share it with someone else. By doing that, we can continue to keep the conversation flowing about mental illness and in-turn break down the barriers that limit people from getting the help they need.

To schedule an appointment with Kendall Campbell, LMFT-Associate, call 512-960-3254.

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When Saying No is Actually Saying Yes.

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Saying “no” might be just what you need.

It’s impossible to have CONSTANT insight and awareness to how your emotional energy is expended throughout the day and how your reactions and responses to others will impact future days. Or have your emotional intelligence so finely tuned that you are certain how your decisions and behaviors will emotionally effect professional and personal relationships and family dynamics. If you have those things dialed in, then you've mastered the ability to set boundaries and achieve a level of self awareness that never leaves you feeling exhausted, over-committed or overwhelmed. 

Most of us are powering through our days to the best of our abilities utilizing the most efficient coping skills we have acquired along the way. As the holidays approach and the calendar seems to fill up more quickly than usual, I’m reminded that saying “yes” to everything is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, it could be actually be a bad thing- not just for me, but for my family too.

First, let’s be clear about what “saying no” means in this context; I’m not referring to the “no” you say when your kid is trying to eat a crayon or cut their sister’s hair. We’re talking about the “no” that is necessary to set boundaries. ALL kinds of boundaries— the boundaries that foster emotional well being, the boundaries that support healthy functioning in a nuclear family and the logistical boundaries that have to deal with every day commitments.

How do I know if I need to say “No?”

Ever feel like you're losing control of your own emotions? Or that others are dictating how your day goes?  It’s time to say no. Recently, a client shared a story about her mother’s constant criticism and judgment of her parenting; her mother is always weighing in with an opinion about how something could be done better. My client was losing herself in self-doubt and fear that she was making decisions that would be detrimental to her children. It was time for her to say no. “No, you cannot project your own regrets and fears about your own identity as a mother onto me. No, I am a good mother and I won’t hear you anymore.” She set an emotional boundary that no longer allowed someone else’s feedback to rule her emotions despite her own ability to validate her role as a mom. If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed and anxious - chances are good you need to check in with yourself and see if you're emotionally exhausted or over-committed. If you are feeling like you have no choice or no say in your relationships or schedule or interactions - its time to slow down for a moment and re-access.

What you're saying "yes" to when you say "no."

 Saying “No” means— I am taking care of myself, so I can take care of others. I value my own mental health. I know my limits.

While some people will take your ability to say no as a personal insult, its important to reinforce (not just to others, but also to yourself) the need to care of yourself. We live in a relational culture that emphasizes or puts a high value on active lifestyles, community and efficiency. If you're not taking of care of yourself first, it can be difficult to authentically and satisfyingly   participate in family and community. Setting emotional boundaries with the toxic friend is ok, not over-committing yourself and your kids to parties and activities so you can spend extra nights at home together is ok, deciding not to spend an hour on Facebook comparing your relationship to someone else’s is ok. In fact, it is necessary to do all of the above from time to time!

Why it can feel great to say "No."

Saying no can feel empowering, like you have control of your emotions and your time, like you have a choice. Saying no will feel different for everyone; it might feel the opposite of overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed.  It’s not just freeing your evening up from a holiday party, it is creating space for and activity or experience that feeds your energy. Saying No is independence. Saying no is permission to be you and make your own choices, free from the influence of others. Saying no is choosing you.

As the holidays approach there were be many extra curricular activities for kiddos, holiday parties and more extended family time than usual. Take some time to check in with yourself, your partner or your family. Do you need to say “no” more? 

To schedule an appointment with Caroline Harris, LMFT-Associate, call 512-915-3063.

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What The Harvey Weinstein Saga Can Teach ALL of Us.

Well hello, Harvey.  I keep trying to forget about you and what you represent, but for all of us, I can’t.

I’ve been reading the articles about Harvey Weinstein.  It makes me remember my early days as a woman in the good ol’ boys club of law firms and courtrooms.  Not the first time for a #MeToo, but more obvious and no attempt to be hidden.   Now, as a therapist, I am more attuned to aspects of male privilege that may be subtler, but which are still harmful.

I have competing thoughts.  I’m not surprised.  In fact, I thought I knew this about Weinstein.  I thought it was abundantly clear, as it seemed to be for many people who knew him or worked with him.  And I have to confront that it was an unspoken assumption on my part.  An assumption based on innuendo and perhaps common sense.  And it hits me (as it always does), I take part in supporting this type of male privilege.

Can we talk about equality?

Image by Nick Step/CC2.0

Image by Nick Step/CC2.0

At the same time, I feel anger and outrage deep in my belly.  I know this feeling.  I started noticing it as a young girl driving around with my dad.  He told me I could do anything, but I wondered about the advertisements surrounding me—they made me so uncomfortable.  It starts at such a young age—seeing the highly sexualized view of women and that we are here to serve.  It made that little girl question, where did my value lie?  That confusion and the experiences between now and then (more #MeToo’s) are not about my singular world; they are about the world we live in, the systems in place that perpetuate them, and how, yes, I unknowingly and unwittingly participate in them.  I do.  There, I said it.  And it is okay.

What is privilege?

Just so we are on the same page: male privilege is a set of social, economic, and political advantages that are made available to men solely based on their sex. And these advantages lead to devastating conclusions that men are more worthy and powerful.

Do males have privilege? Absolutely, without a doubt.  Do we all need to stand up and say, “No.  I will not live like this anymore?” You bet.  But what irritates me is that we think we need to do this only for women.  Something men need to do for us. The truth is it’s for all of us, for our collective humanity, and not “just” to support women.  Let’s be clear: addressing male privilege is for every last single one of us.  And as a society we need people supporting people.  Can I speak more about my experiences of male privilege than my husband can?  Absolutely.  But that does not make it less valuable for my husband to equally participate in and address the problem.  It is not just for me or our daughter, it is also to improve his and our son’s lives. 

So, what are some ways that each of us can work more diligently to begin to peel the layers of male privilege back?

·      TALK ABOUT IT.  Talk about bias.  We all have it.  We have all, in different ways, been trained.  No one is immune.  If we can’t talk about it, how do we confront it?  We need to think about our assumptions, be able to question them and it be okay. 

·      ASK QUESTIONS.  When things don’t make sense or something seems off, get curious.  Not to assign blame, but to truly engage in conversation.  What does blame get us?  Yes-Weinstein and other offenders like him need to be held accountable.  But in our day-to-day lives there are much smaller moments that lead to the Harvey Weinsteins and the systems of male entitlement that are unchecked.  These subtler manifestations of male entitlement understandably don’t garner the same attention that Weinstein’s egregious behavior does, but we need to discuss them.

·      ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY.  This is not up to men.  It’s not about all “those bad men.”  It’s about you and me, our co-workers, our educators, our executives, and our children.  As long as we expect change to happen elsewhere, it won’t.

On a lighter note, the other day I had to laugh.  My 10-year-old son came home complaining he was made fun of based on his gender.  After a quick check-in, I realized an old friend of his had said to him “boys drool, girls rule.”  Well, we’ve been talking…and he is thinking.  And we talked again, so I could clarify a few things, but it is a start.

Practice Conversation. Practice Accountability. Practice Change.

To schedule an appointment with Robyn Strelitz, LMFT, call 512-434-0868.

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3 Things You Can do Right Now to Encourage Your Child's Resilience

Nguyen Nguyen/CC0

Nguyen Nguyen/CC0

Resilience is when we maintain healthy development despite our adversity. A quick google search of the definition brings up phrases like “elasticity,” “recover quickly from difficulties,” “return to previous form.” Perhaps those definitions are true to some degree, but when it comes to children and adolescents many adapt to their environment to sustain themselves, often engaging in unhealthy behaviors that allow them to survive in less than optimal conditions. One thing is for sure though, children never return to their previous form; they grow, evolve, learn and condition themselves to navigate life’s emotional difficulties.

The behavioral tools and coping skills they pick up along the way are a combination of healthy and unhealthy, effective and maladaptive, isolating and engaging, the list goes on. Our children are learning these behaviors from the vast expanse of their environments; peers, parents, siblings, social media, tv, video games, the person in the restaurant at the next table over.

True resiliency in children means they are able to weather the emotional ups and downs of life and continue to developmentally thrive. Resilient children do not always choose healthy ways of managing their emotions or anxieties, but they ARE managing them. As parents, caretakers and adults with vested interest in the emotional safety and well being of children we can all do three things right now to support and foster resiliency and emotional stability for children.

How to Build a Child's Resilience

1. Put your phone down.

Kids need to know that they are the priority over a work email or Facebook. They are taking their emotional cues from you, when you choose the phone over an interaction with them you miss an opportunity to remind them they are the most important thing in the room. Technology isn't going away, BUT YOUR KIDS EVENTUALLY WILL.

They will learn from everyone else in the world that cell phones and computers are important, your role as a parent is to ensure that your support will be given when they bring worries, concerns and questions from outside into the home. Stability supports resiliency.  BE the stable relationship in your child’s life that allows them to navigate their emotional landscape.

2. Provide consistency.

Consistency creates routine and predictability. Whether it’s the nighttime routine before bed, or the guaranteed Saturday afternoon with dad playing basketball, consistency creates a space for children to depend on. It is far easy for a child to handle the stress of a tough week at school when she knows on Thursday she will get some one on one time with her mom to talk about it. Consistency allows children and adolescents to “turn into the family” when they are having a hard time or needing support, as opposed to looking to outside influences to mitigate their stress and anxiety. Eat with your kids. Research shows it supports healthy eating patterns.

3. Talk to kids about how they feel.

Feeling is natural. No matter what, your kids will feel. But knowing how to put those feelings into words is a learned skill. Most children and adolescents walk, talk and act far more mature than their actual age. We need to remind ourselves that they are master imitators. Most children are not cognitively developed enough to fully understand and process their emotions. While it might seem that they understand what they are saying, they likely need help matching the correct words with their emotions. Anger is the easiest and most often expressed emotion in teens, it’s the most socially acceptable and accessible.

Anger is primal. It is about survival.  Anger goes hand in hand with many other emotions, and when given the language, space and opportunity to explore the other emotions can be very empowering. A safe environment for exploring emotions fosters self awareness, intrinsic validation and resiliency.

To schedule an appointment with Caroline Harris, LMFT-Associate, call 512-915-3063.

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How to Identify the Signs of Addiction Relapse.

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Pixabay/CC0

Relapse is the eye of the addiction storm.

Addiction can be a heavy-handed topic, and it’s not always a pleasant conversation to have. But if you’re struggling with reading about it, imagine what it might be like to live with it. Help me spread the word; help others understand it, and help those with it so we can end it. We need to continue to better understand addiction so we know how to stay connected and supportive of those battling it.

In order to further your understanding I’m going to talk about relapse, and even more importantly, I’m going to talk about how to identify several warning signs of relapse.

What is relapse? And when does relapse occur?

Relapse is a process, not a single event. 

It's an addict’s return to the addiction cycle or worse.  Clinically, relapse is the physical act of someone in recovery putting alcohol/drugs into their body. That length of sobriety could have been one day or fifty years but when that substance enters their body the sobriety clock resets. As I said though, relapse is a process and just as anyone in addiction will tell you they didn’t wake up one day and choose to be an addict. No one in recovery just stops and says “today’s the day I return to rock bottom.”  The process can be short and in earlier sobriety it might only be a month or a few weeks but more often it’s slow with several elements occurring subtly over time.

What are the relapse warning signs?

There are several different warning signs but in order to make them easy to remember I want you think of AA. Alcoholics anonymous is most known for its’ ties with helping those in addiction fight for recovery so it’s perfect that the warning signs of future relapse can be broken down into two categories; Attitudes and Actions (AA).

1. Attitudes

One of biggest warning signs I see – especially in early sobriety – is overconfidence. It’s the string of thoughts and sometimes outright statements that imply “I know everything I need to know” and “I can do this on my own.” Don’t get me wrong, having a sense of confidence and pride in what you’ve learned in treatment and/or meetings is powerful (and needed). However, when someone in recovery stops being willing to accept the support, advice or accountability of others there should be some red flags and alarms going off.

Another major warning sign of relapse is when someone in recovery becomes emotionally overloaded. More often than not this occurs as a reaction to an event like a job loss, afamily member passing away or a relationship ending, however medication changes and existing mental illness (like depression or bipolar) can also be a cause. These intense emotional moments will look like an exaggerated departure from the person in recovery’s normal emotional state. This could look like anxiety turning into panic, sadness shifting to grief or anger becoming rage.

2. Actions

One of the biggest warning signs at any point in recovery is Isolation. For any number of reasons, many in addiction put distance between those around them before relapse; this includes family, friends, loved ones, etc. This could be subtle like missing/skipping scheduled meetings or events like lunch dates, support group meetings, or work. It might also be more confrontational like lashing out or manipulating conversation in a manner that makes you feel as if you want/need to leave.

The last major warning sign relates more to inaction than action and can best be described as a general lack of self-care. A few examples of this could be eating poorly, exercising less or not at all, and/or maintaining unhealthy sleeping patterns. You might also notice that the person in recovery has a decreased interest in engaging in the activities or hobbies that you know they enjoy. This is especially important to notice because in addition to being a warning sign of future relapse it could also be an early sign of depression.

What do I do once I've seen the signs of addiction relapse?

Whether you’ve just seen one of them or all of them, you simply reach out. There are several ways to treat addiction but each of them starts with a conversation where you offer your ear and your heart. They might not be ready to share their thoughts or feelings with you at the moment but by keeping the conversation and the support open-ended, they will know they are loved and that someone else is willing to fight Addiction alongside them.

To schedule an appointment with Kendall Campbell, LMFT-Associate, Call 512-920-3654.

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Why We Can't Give Up on Mental Health.

Matthias Zomer/CC0

Matthias Zomer/CC0

Sunday night – I feel the anxiety brewing for the day to come. We’re short-staffed and overbooked. I know it’s only temporary, so I lay my head to rest to get as much sleep as I can to prepare myself for the potential that awaits me.

Monday morning – I wake up to chaos in the news. There’s been a shooting. So far, 50 are dead. It’s being considered the deadliest mass shooting in modern history; replacing the title that the shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida just last year claimed. I kiss my husband good morning, tell him of the tragic news and get out of bed. I don’t have time to read more, I have to get to the hospital.

Monday – I clock in at work and the expected mayhem ensues. For the next 10 hours, I don’t stop. 10 hours of crisis after crisis. Family’s world’s falling apart; confusion, frustration, hurt, despair, hopelessness, I’m surrounded by it. I can feel myself breaking down. I step outside, take a breath, shed some overwhelmed tears, regroup and get back to work; this is my duty, to help these families, to ease this hurt. Thank goodness for my support people today, they are picking me up, refilling my cup and giving me the energy to keep going.

Monday night – It’s 7 PM and I am finally heading home. I barely take a breath before opening my phone to find countless reactions from the devastation in Las Vegas. Questions, worries, prayers, anger, sadness, helplessness, politics. It’s all there. And it’s all swirling inside of me too. I breakdown. Because unlike what I’m sure many of you assumed when you first read this…I don’t work in an emergency room or a medical hospital, I work in a psychiatric hospital - a mental health facility that specializes in the crisis treatment of severe mental illnesses.

Why does mental health awareness matter now more than ever?

Mental illness is still considered taboo to talk about, still stigmatized, still a conversation that we don’t feel comfortable having. Yet it’s happening all around us and affecting every single one of us. But still, we avoid the topic.

What happened in Las Vegas Sunday evening was a horrific tragedy. The pictures of that night, the experiences shared, the names of those precious lives lost, the stories of the lives they led, its heart wrenching.

So many are asking themselves why and feeling at a loss of how to help or what to do. We send prayers, we donate blood, we ban together as much as we can. But days and weeks will begin to pass and we’re tearing ourselves back apart – our beliefs are pulling us in different directions, towards different focuses and we’ve found ourselves in the same old pattern.

But we’re not the same. Some lives have changed, some perspectives have shifted. And those ‘some’ are the ones that are continuing the movement, finding the meaning, creating the action.

You see, as much as we want to dehumanize this man that chose to senselessly take so many lives, he is still a human. One that walked among us and left a seemingly bare trace of any issue. Beyond his act Sunday evening is a story, a lifetime of various encounters and experiences that have fueled this behavior – this choice. For us to negate his story, to not even attempt to understand or learn more only maintains the pattern, keeps us stagnant, complacent, seemingly safe – yet we’re anything but.

“Maybe no one will ever understand Steve,” says Stephen Paddock’s brother, Eric Paddock. “But this is what I’ll carry for the rest of my life: Had I called him back instead of texting, would I have heard something in his voice? Would he have given up something? I don’t know. I can’t say. That’s what I’m going to carry for the rest of my life.”

A phone call. A connection.

More details will continue to pour out and the story will become more succinct, the picture more clear, but will our understanding follow suit? That decision is up to you.

How do we talk about mental illness?

-        Ask the hard questions. Reach out and lean into the discomfort that you feel when you dig deeper. It’s uncomfortable, it’s hard, but it’s important work because when you breach your comfort zone, growth happens and lives are changed.

-        Show up. Simply being there with someone, struggling or not, is an investment in your relationship with yourselves and them. We are wired to connect. When we put energy into the relationships around us, we feel stronger, rejuvenated and less alone. Guess what? So do they.

-        Take care of yourself. We cannot pour from an empty cup. Check in with what you need to refuel and do it. Self-care is not selfish. Everyone benefits from a healthy head and heart.

-        Listen to your body. What is it telling you? How is that energy serving you? We control our own reactivity, no one else can do that for us. We are designed to feel. Anger, sadness, fear – they’re a part of our emotion bank, but it’s up to us to release them in a way that is both healthy and freeing.

-        Limit your media intake. Let’s be honest, that shit’s exhausting. Especially in the social climate we live in today. Social media can be a great source for those that need a platform to speak their truth. Eliminating it seems unfathomable to most for fear of taking themselves out of the equation might lead to more detriment than hope. But I encourage you to limit how much you’re taking in. Look for facts, consider opinions, evaluate your own values, but when your energy begins to fleet and your cup is emptying. Shut it down.

-        Act. As a society, we function in immediacy. We rise to the occasion and come out in full force. But over time, that urgency diminishes. We cannot continue to fall back into our old patterns and still expect change. There is good in this world. Be a part of it.

“People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.

Speak Truth to Bullshit. Be Civil.

Hold Hands. With Strangers.

Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.”

– Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.

To schedule an appointment with Alyssa Cornett, LMFT-Associate, call 737-226-3803.

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Fitness, Forgiveness, and Fido

Pixabay/CC0

Pixabay/CC0

When you’re recovering from a substance abuse disorder, the fear of relapse is always at the forefront of your thoughts. You already know you need a good support system but you can’t always have someone by your side. Fortunately, there are a few way to beat the beast when you’re left to your own devices.

Diet and exercise

If you want to live a healthy lifestyle, you have to start from within. What you eat and how you treat your body can make or break your recovery effort. Eating well isn’t as hard as you think. When grocery shopping, stick to the perimeter of the store and avoid boxed and bagged foods. Swap processed snacks for easy-to-eat fruits such as bananas, grapes, or apples. You can find out more about nutrition by visiting the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Your physical activities also play a significant role in your recovery. Strive for at least 30 to 45 minutes of intense movement each day. Vary your routine between aerobic and anaerobic exercises; for instance, you may swim one day and do yoga the next. Aerobic exercises, swimming included, get your blood pumping. Anaerobic exercises, those which work specific muscle groups, like yoga, strengthen your muscles and core. We use swimming and yoga as examples as these are two popular alternative therapy activities used by drug treatment centers across the country.

When you exercise, your body releases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. These are the same chemicals that trigger addictive behaviors. However, in the case of exercise, the brain begins to look forward to the natural high of physical exertion instead of seeking out risky behaviors. Cathe Friedrich, a fitness instructor certified by the American Council on Exercise since 1986, explains that people in the throes of depression often have less serotonin than their happy-go-lucky counterparts. She further reports that a regular exercise routine is, “as effective as prescription antidepressants for easing depression.”

There is also mounting evidence that exercise can help reverse the signs of aging.

Cosmopolitan points out that the increased circulation associated with exercise delivers oxygen to your skin cells, improving your overall appearance and helping you regain your skin vibrancy. (This Time photo series illustrates the correlation between drug use and premature aging.)

Forgive. But don't forget.

When you were using, you may have done things you now regret. Part of a healthy recovery plan involves making amends. The first step is to take responsibility for your actions and rectify issues where you can. You’ll also need to face the reality that you can’t make up for everything and that continually punishing yourself will thwart your recovery efforts. You must forgive yourself for your behaviors and continue to pay reparations to friends and family by making a conscious effort to live productively each and every day.

Find a furry friend.

Dogs are the perfect companion when you’re recovering from substance abuse. They are nonjudgmental and love unconditionally. Dogs provide the opportunity to nurture and to demonstrate responsibility. But in addition to the mental health benefits of having a canine companion, your dog is an excellent workout buddy… And not just for walking.

Dog yoga (and yes, it’s a real thing) has gained popularity in recent years. Dogs are naturally inclined to stretch, lay down, and relax. More importantly, doing yoga, meditating, swimming, running, or hiking with your dog offers bonding time; it’s a chance to connect with a living creature at a time in your life when you likely feel disconnected from the world.

Your descent into the depths of dependency didn’t happen overnight and, likewise, recovery takes time. But, if you add diet and exercise to your everyday routine, you will be one step ahead of your addiction.

This article was written as a guest post by Constance Ray of Recovery Well.

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Three Steps to Healthy Emotional Expression.

Pixabay/CC0

Pixabay/CC0

Charles Wright really said it best when he said, “Express Yourself! Express yourself!…you don’t need any help from anybody else….all you gotta do now is express yourself!”

Well, maybe you do want a little help from someone to figure out how best to express yourself and I am here to help. I wish expressing emotions was naturally easy; emotions just have a way of taking hold of you and making communication a little messy at times in relationships. Think about how you tend to communicate when you’re upset with your partner. Maybe you feel like every time you try to share how you’re feeling it ends with conflict. And maybe because of this you have stopped expressing all together. Or perhaps your relationship has been stuck in a constant conflict because all you feel like you’re doing is sharing how you feel but nothing is changing as a result.

Whatever your experience has been I think it is safe for me to assume that we all hope we are able to express ourselves in a way that is met with a more compassionate response versus defensiveness or immediate conflict.

Why is emotional expression difficult?

During conflict, it can be easy to immediately place blame on your partner and what he or she is doing to upset you. You may have found yourself saying, “You’re being so insensitive…[or] you’re really starting to annoy me [or] you <insert any other statement>.”

It can be easier, and maybe more natural, to place blame rather than to consider how you are feeling and why.  Here is the three-step approach I share with couples to help them adapt a new way of communicating how they are feeling.

Consider these three steps any time you feel yourself becoming triggered and you fear an argument or fight is brewing.

1. Pause when you're angry.

It can be super relieving to say, “Stop being so rude!” That statement doesn’t require much thought and is a way of reacting to what you feel. This first step is all about pausing to halt the knee-jerk reaction you may have become used to using whenever upset. Simply pausing during moments of frustration can do numbers for your relationship! Pausing is also a great time to take an emotional step back and take a deep breath (or a few) to help regulate your emotional state.

2. Consider what else you're feeling.

If you feel like your partner is being insensitive, what is this insensitivity causing you to feel? I think this can be tough for many to uncover. If my husband said something that felt insensitive it likely hurt my feelings. Maybe I felt unimportant, stupid, ashamed, inferior, or <insert negative emotion here>.

Emotion is data. And just like information, some data are easier to find than other data.

Uncovering how you feel is extremely important in being able to express your emotions with your partner. Once you uncover how you feel the focus is now on you and your emotion versus placing blame on your partner. Sometimes it can feel like all you feel is anger, but there’s usually something else going on. Maybe sadness or hurt? Those emotions invite conversation. Anger just attacks or defends.

3. Use "I" statements to express how you feel.

Bottom line. Don’t talk about how you feel by describing what your partner is doing. Instead of saying, “I feel like you’re being a jerk,” describe how you feel when your partner is acting how she/he acts.

Avoiding using “you” can help decrease defensive reactions from your partner because he or she does not feel blamed or attacked. It is hard to argue with how another person feels, but it can be easy to argue with what feels like a blame or an unjust attack.  

If I continue with the insensitive example with my husband I may say, “Hey, I’m feeling a little unimportant and hurt by the response I just heard…” Notice how the focus is all on me and how I feel versus pointing fingers at him. Even saying, “I need to take a minute after what was just said, I am upset and feeling sad right now” can be huge.

Not only are you pausing to allow yourself to cool down, but you are also expressing your feelings. Challenge yourself to keep “you” out of any expression, and see how that may positively impact the dynamic when conflict is creeping up.

When you’re reading these steps you may be thinking, “easy enough!” Or maybe you’re thinking these steps seem too simple and too easy to really work. Whichever train of thought you are on I think the goal in a relationship is to continue to look for ways to communicate more effectively with one another. Using these three steps to emotionally express yourself will likely take practice and may be met with resistance in the beginning. Try them out and see what happens- you may surprise yourself with how arguments can change in your relationship with even just accomplishing step one- pausing! Build on as time goes on and see if you and your partner can change up pattern of conflict your relationship is in.

To schedule an appointment with Mandi Roarke, LMFT-Associate, call 512-537-0995.

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5 Tips to Parent Well Through a Divorce.

Life of Pix/CC0

Life of Pix/CC0

Going through a divorce can be emotionally, physically, and financially exhausting.  You and your ex may have decided to go separate ways, but you're still partners in raising your children.

Some parents worry a lot about their children through the divorce process.  Other’s think that their children are too young to be impacted.  The bottom line: most children go through a grief and adjustment period for about a year following their parents’ divorce.  Of course, how they manage and how they cope has a lot to do with how their parents handle the process.  Here are some ways to think it through:

1. There are no winners and losers in divorce.

Children still have the same parents after a divorce.  While their story of a single household is changing, the story of their childhood is still unfolding.  And divorce or not, the story has many more chapters that have yet to be told.  Rest assured, the possibilities are endless.

2. Your children can have great relationships with both of you.

Just because you and your ex are going your separate ways, your children can still enjoy time with both of you.  Asking or wanting your children to deny their parent is like asking them to deny half of who they are.  When you support your children’s relationship with their other parent, you are in truth accepting your children unconditionally.

3. Avoid venting to your children about their other parent.

Ok, so there may be times when you don’t agree with your ex—after all there are reasons you two chose to divorce. It can be tempting to vent to your children about their other parent.  In the short term, it may feel like a good emotional release and a way to create a bond of loyalty with your children.  However, in the long run, it will hurt them and could ultimately undermine your relationship with them. If you need to talk, do it.  Talk to friends, adult family, a therapist.  Just make sure your children are out of earshot.

In fact, it's even good practice to avoid asking your kids about what goes on at your ex's home. Sometimes, we think good parenting means knowing everything that happens, but the collateral consequences can be that your kids feel stuck in the middle.

4. Be careful not to rely on your kids for emotional support though divorce.

It’s okay to be vulnerable, but be careful about relying on your children to address it and disclosing too much to them.  Your children need to be children.  Putting them in a position to be an emotional caretaker is a huge burden on them, forces them to choose sides and think in adult terms.  Let your children be children.  Don’t take them off that merry go round too early. We all only have one childhood.  

5. Be kind to yourself.

Parenting is not about perfection.  As parents’ part of our job is to model self-acceptance for our kids.   Having a bad day?  Worrying? Just plain old tired?  It is a gift to let your children know that you are human too.  We all have good days and bad days.  You too make mistakes and can acknowledge them.

Children whose parents stay in a bad relationship suffer.  Not only are they more likely to have mental health concerns, but they are less likely to have healthy relationships.  Your child’s life is not defined by your divorce, unless you say it is. 

Your divorce can be a turning point for your children, your ex, and you.  Try not to get caught up with the label, focus more on how you move forward.  At the end of the day, all our children want the same things: to know they are loved and that their parents will be there for them. 

It’s also pretty great when they can see their parents move through tough times, recover, and write their next chapter.

To schedule an appointment with Robyn Strelitz, LMFT, call 512-434-0868.

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Is Social Media Messing with Your Relationship?

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Pixabay/CC0

Social media is at our fingertips 24/7; in our homes, cars and relationships.

This is a reality that isn't going away and one that generations before us didn't have to navigate. I know I’m stating the obvious here- but social media and technology have forever changed the landscape of how we communicate, live our daily lives, and relate to one another. Whatever your social media habits might be, take a minute to think about three things: 

  1. Does the AMOUNT OF TIME spent on social media affect your relationships?
  2. How often does the CONTENT on social media impact how you view your partner?
  3. Do you use social media to distract yourself or avoid interaction with your partner?

How do your social media habits impact how you view your partner?

Social media can create unrealistic relationship expectations. Or maybe it’s not what others are doing is unrealistic - it’s just not AUTHENTIC for you or your relationship. What you see others doing or posting or tweeting is a small snap shot of their day or who they are.

If we spend enough time consuming media and other peoples lives, do we begin to believe our lives should look the same? Do we create expectations for our partners that don’t fit the uniqueness of the relationship? A lack of communication about realistic expectations breeds resentment and mistrust. So, take a minute to ask yourself if you're holding your partner accountable for something they don't know about.

Instead, what if you just talked to your partner?

Take a minute to talk about it. Just talking about expectations, wants, needs, and desires creates intimacy and vulnerability even though it's easier to bury our minds and attention in something else. Research is just starting to surface about how social media/technology can create problematic behaviors.

The tricky part about using your cell phone for everything is that it conveniently functions for professional and personal uses throughout your daily life; for example, you deposit checks, take business and personal phone calls, type emails, schedule appointments, buy groceries, watch videos and much much more!

So, carving out focused time to share with your partner is paramount. When my grandparents needed to discuss something in the evening, they didn't have the option to say, “Hold on one sec, I’m finishing this work bid that I need to email and then I need to deposit a check, troll on Twitter and Favor our dinner.” Choose your partner first, they deserve the uninterrupted, original version of face time.

How can you be more vulnerable with your partner? 

Break the cycle of disconnect. What works for your relationship might not work for another. Together with your partner decide what amount of social media and TV you allow in your home, your life, and in all your relationships.

Set boundaries and parameters. No phones during dinner. We take one hour an evening with no TV or phones to download (pun intended) our day. If you don't take the time to connect, then the ongoing narrative becomes one of you isn’t important enough to warrant genuine authentic interaction.

A lack of quality face time with your partner will begin to erode the foundation of connection and desire in the relationship. When your partner has something important to share or needs to explore their feelings and you glance between the TV and phone sharing vulnerable moments or feelings are no longer safe in a relationship, it becomes a legitimate fear. By not giving your attention to the person you love, you inadvertently communicate that they are not important.

To schedule an appointment with Caroline Harris, LMFT-Associate, call 512-915-3063.

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Four Reasons Why it's Awesome to Date a Single Mom.

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Pixabay/CC0

I talk to a lot of single moms who feel self conscious, who feel like they're met with judgmental looks or condescending comments from others who don't understand what we go through.  I'm a single mom myself and am all too familiar with the shame that can be imposed on us. 

I have heard pretty much ALL of the single mommy assumptions and stereotypes like, "she must be selfish, careless, full of drama, carrying a lot of baggage, promiscuous, or downright irresponsible." This long list of assumptions doesn’t exactly leave a woman feeling confident, sexy or sometimes even worthy of a good partner. So lets focus on the bright side of being a single mom and how it can translate into being one highly desirable catch!

Why Dating a Single Mom is a Great Thing

1. Single moms are independent.

You're most likely driving kids to dance and soccer, bathing the baby, helping with homework or prepping lunches for the week. You certainly don’t have time for intimacy games, jealousy or clinginess.  You're in your element and truly fulfilled taking care of your family and that display of focus and competency is highly attractive.

2. Single moms love fiercely.

Sleep deprivation, stomach bugs, constant messes, outrageous temper tantrums, loss of personal time … raising kids is the BEST way to learn how to love unconditionally. You know how to exude affection when life is crazy tough and how to give without expecting it to benefit you in return. Your endless patience and ability to pour yourself into others are undeniably sought-after traits. 

3. Single moms are ambitious.

You are probably juggling a career, motherhood, cooking dinner, and keeping your checking account in the green. You are the master at prioritizing what is most important and setting goals for success. You are a woman with a plan. Determination and hard work are no strangers to you and those traits are abundantly refreshing in committed relationships.

4. Single moms are good in bed.

You have witnessed your body go through some next to impossible challenges while carrying and delivering those babies.  You grew and birthed a walking, talking human being which means you most likely no longer obsess over minor imperfections in your appearance. You have a deep respect for what your figure is capable of and feel comfortable in your own skin. The biggest predictors of amazing sex are confidence and openness. Don’t be afraid to use your strong sense of body confidence to bring your sex life to new heights.

The idea that most potential partners want to run the other way when they see a single mom simply isn’t true. A great deal of women and men see the attributes of single moms as irresistible. Potential partners who do not see these qualities as sexy are most likely not at the same life stage as you and that’s okay. Having kiddos provides you with you with a built in filter that quickly sorts through all the toads to find your charming mate.

P.S.  Who wouldn’t want to date a girl with a pantry stocked full of all of the childhood favorites?!

To schedule an appointment with Lindley Domingue, LMFT-Associate, call 512-953-7085.

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Breaking the Cycle: How to Treat Addiction

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Learning about addiction is one thing. But treating it is something totally different.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about addiction that you can read here & today I'll discuss how to treat it. 

For many addicts, addiction has stripped them from love, support and connection. Too often I see those experiencing the isolation that addiction causes; from family cutting ties, employers letting them go, or simply society distancing itself from a person labeled as an “addict.” Sometimes this isolation can create a sense of desperation for the individual and in turn a desire to seek treatment but unfortunately, it can just as likely lead to overdose and death. One of the most common phrases I hear from patients is their loved ones saying “if you love me, you’ll stop using.”

But in reality this assumption falls flat.

Anyone who is an addict will tell you that they didn’t just wake up one morning and think, “today is the day I become an addict and isolate myself from my friends, family and everything I know and love.”

How do we help those suffering from addiction?

This blog's most important lesson: addiction is treated with an open mind, love, support and connection to community.

It’s the only way for someone in addiction to experience recovery. Yes, in actuality, there are numerous ways to treat addiction from support groups to treatment centers – all of which I’ll discuss briefly – but I promise you, none of those are effective if a foundation of love, support and connection isn't created.

So what do we do? We reach out and keep our arms open. Even if the person is in addiction and doesn’t want help, you make it known that you’re still there for them and you will continue to be when they do want help – You continue to love them! If you remember nothing else from this article remember that!

Why addiction detox is important

Coffee. Have you ever been without it for a few days? It’s terrible right?! The headaches you experience can stay with you and seriously put a damper on your whole day. Those headaches are a direct response to your body withdrawing from caffeine.

Now imagine what it must be like to stop taking a drug like heroin or Xanax – headaches are just the beginning and the end could result in death if not careful treated. Not everyone in addiction requires detox but coming off of/withdrawing from substances like opiates, benzodiazepines, and even alcohol can be lethal if not carefully weaned off of. So, when an addict is finally ready to seek help, their first step towards recovery starts with safety. Depending on the length of use and the type of substance being used, your loved one might need to go to a Detox facility. These facilities are designed to monitor their patient’s vitals and slowly wean them off the drug(s) they have been using.

The best way to know if you or your loved one needs medical detox is to get a consultation with a medical professional who is familiar with the signs of dependence and substance abuse.

Treating addiction: Choosing the right program

The next step towards recovery can be the hardest and most daunting for those in addiction and the people closest to them. This is because at this point in recovery there are several options to choose from and research varies widely in regards to the best option. There are some organizations that mix and match or even combine these different options but primarily treatment can be broken down by levels of care (i.e. levels of intensity/structure).

From the most intense to the least invasive types of care, the treatment options are as follows: residential treatment, partial hospitalization programs (PHP), intensive outpatient programs (IOP) and traditional outpatient counseling and psychotherapy.

How do residential addiction programs and treatment centers help?

There are countless treatments centers each with their own way of treating addiction but the best programs focus on two things; education and connection. During their time in treatment, addicts will learn the cycle of addiction, how substances affect their body, how relationships (family, friends and significant others) can perpetuate and/or prevent relapse, coping skills/grounding techniques to help manage stress and cravings, and so much more.

Depending on the program they might also learn about the 12 steps and how to connect with a power greater than themselves. The second point of focus is connection. Throughout treatment, they will be establishing and growing a network of sober social support. This network will consist of the individuals they attend programming with, the staff that work at the treatment center and the people they connect with if they attend any outside support groups for people in recovery ((i.e. Alcoholics anonymous (AA), Narcotics anonymous (NA), Cocaine anonymous (CA), etc.)) which is a critical component in the prevention of relapse.

It is up to all of us to ensure those seeking treatment for their addiction feel supported and loved throughout their recovery process.

To schedule an appointment with Kendall Campbell, LMFT-Associate, call 512-920-3654.

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The Long Road Ahead: How Harvey and Irma Survivors are Grieving and Surviving

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Snapwire/CC0

While we may be past the initial shock of hurricane Harvey, the lasting impact of such a tragedy is something we must all cope with. 

Whether they were evacuated themselves or knew someone who was or didn’t know anyone, many of my clients continue to be emotionally impacted by the effects of such a traumatic event in our community. Here are a few questions to think about in terms of grief associated with the kind of loss hurricane survivors might be experiencing.

How do survivors of trauma grieve?

Grief is a deep sorrow or sadness and usually associated with the death of a loved one. This is an obvious and appropriate understanding of grief for some hurricane survivors. But there is another kind of grief that a large portion of survivors are living with called unresolved grief. Unresolved grief can happen because of many different life events or in one traumatic experience. The grief hurricane survivors are dealing with is ongoing. For them, life is described as “before Harvey” and “after Harvey.” Everyday they face the reality that whatever normal they knew before Harvey, will never be again; there is only a new normal, a new reality.

They aren't just mourning the loss of homes, material things and people; they're mourning the way their daily lives looked and felt while being forced to lean into a new reality.

How do I help those whose grief is unresolved?

Empathy comes from the ability to see or feel another person’s experience or perspective.

When was the last time you didn't have a roof for your children to sleep under? How would you feel if you had nothing to feed your baby and no diapers? Can you imagine telling your child that you wont be returning to your same school or home because its not longer there? Can you imagine what it might have felt like to hunker down to ride the storm out, constantly checking the radar for tornados, not sure if your house would flood to dangerous levels, trying to calm frightened children for several days?

You can imagine the impact that kind of stress would have on the mind and body. This kind of trauma can have a lingering effect on survivors and inspire a wide range of emotions. Many people who experienced Hurricane Harvey have seen destruction and felt fear we have not; with that comes a harsh disillusioned experience of human suffering and emotion. Compassion is empathy, understanding is empathy and acceptance is empathy.

How can I support and help others cope with their new reality?

Everyone has basic needs, and some are more urgent than others. Are their basic needs being met? It might be that a family still isn't sure how they will feed themselves in the months to come with no home and no jobs. How can you help ease their transition?

You can help others cope by asking questions. Ask them to specify exactly what they need or how you can assist.

Ask about their experience. No two hurricane survivor stories are alike. Allowing people to share a story invokes a sense of community, love, empathy and respect. Hearing an individual’s or family’s unique experience create community and support by giving them a place to be heard.

Point out their resiliency and strength. Show appreciation for their endurance and will. 

As more time passes it’ll continue to be business as usual for us, but remember that survivors are living their new reality in the midst of grief, loss and transition. And while they may not ask for it, they’ll still need our support, encouragement and empathy as they carve out a new and different “Post Harvey” life. 

Practice compassion, understanding and acceptance.

To schedule and appointment with Caroline Harris, LMFT-Associate, call 512-861-4131.

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512-861-4131