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Predict Your Weak Spots. When I quit smoking, it was helpful to identify the danger zones–those times I most enjoying firing up lung rockets: in the morning with my java, in the afternoon with my java, in the car (if you've been my passenger you know why), and in the evening with my java and a Twix bar. I jotted these times down in my “dysfunction journal” with suggestions of activities to replace the smokes: In the morning I began eating eggs and grapefruit, which don't blend well with cigs. I bought a tape to listen to in the car. An afternoon walk replaced the 3:00 smoke break. And I tried to read at night, which didn't happen (eating chocolate is more soothing).
Distract Yourself. Any addict would benefit from a long list of “distractions,” activities than can take her mind off of a cig, a glass of Merlot, or a suicidal plot (during a severe depression). Some good ones: crossword puzzles, novels, Sudoku, e-mails, reading Beyond Blue (a must!); walking the dog (pets are wonderful “buddies” and can improve mental health), card games, movies, “American Idol” (as long as you don't make fun of the contestants...bad for your depression, as it attracts bad karma); sports, de-cluttering the house (cleaning out a drawer, a file, or the garage...or just stuffing it with more stuff); crafts; gardening (even pulling weeds, which you can visualize as the marketing director that you hate working with); exercise; nature (just sitting by the water); and music (even Yanni works, but I'd go classical).
Sweat. Working out is technically an addiction for me (according to some lame article I read), and I guess I do have to be careful with it since I have a history of an eating disorder (who doesn't?). But there is no depression buster as effective for me than exercise. An aerobic workout not only provides an antidepressant effect, but you look pretty stupid lighting up after a run (trust me, I used to do it all the time and the stares weren't friendly) or pounding a few beers before the gym. I don't know if it's the endorphins or what, but I just think–even pray–much better and feel better with sweat dripping down my face.
Start a Project. Here's a valuable tip I learned in the psych ward–the fastest way to get out of your head is to put it in a new project–compiling a family album, knitting a blanket, coaching Little League, heading a civic association, planning an Earth Day festival, auditioning for the local theatre, taking a course at the community college. I went to Michael's (the arts and crafts store) and bought 20 different kinds of candles to place around the house, five picture boxes for all the loose photos I have bagged underneath the piano, and two dozen frames. Two years later, all of it is still there, bagged and stored in the garage. However, I also signed up for a tennis class, because I'm thinking ahead and when the kids go off to college, Eric and I will need another pastime in addition to reading about our kids on Facebook.
Keep a Record. One definition of suffering is doing the same thing over and over again, each time expecting different results. It's so easy to see this pattern in others: “Katherine, for God's sake, Barbie doesn't fit down in the drain (it's not a water slide)” or the alcoholic who swears she will be able to control her drinking once she finds the right job. But I can be so blind to my own attempts at disguising self-destructive behavior in a web of lies and rationalizations. That's why, when I'm in enough pain, I write everything down–so I can read for myself exactly how I felt after I had lunch with the person who likes to beat me up as a hobby, or after eight weeks of a Marlboro binge, or after two weeks on a Hershey-Starbucks diet. Maybe it's the journalist in me, but the case for breaking a certain addiction, or stopping a behavior contributing to depression, is much stronger once you can read the evidence provided from the past.
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Get a Good Diet. If you were like most people who have spent years drinking or using drugs, you likely did not have the best diet during that time. It's true that you are what you eat, and your body may now be showing the signs of a long period of malnutrition. Cut out junk food from your diet, keep sugar and unhealthy fats to a minimum, and load up on fresh vegetables and fruits, fish and lean meats. Drink plenty of water, and avoid having too much coffee. The change won't happen overnight, but with time your tastes will change, you will start craving healthy food rather than junk, and you will begin to notice remarkable changes in your energy level, appearance, immunity and overall health.
Get Enough Rest. Whatever your sleep schedule was while you were addicted, it was in all likelihood not one that was conducive to good physical and mental health. Sleeping all day and staying up all night, sleeping off and on through the night, going days on end without sleep and then crashing - these are only a few common examples of the kinds of schedules which characterize “rest” for an addict. You might be surprised to see what a difference it can make to get yourself into a rhythm of sleeping for eight hours every night. It can translate to higher energy levels, a far better mood, sharper mental alertness, less illness and more.
Find and Pursue Your Goals. Perhaps the most important step you can take following your recovery from addiction is to figure out what your goals are in life, and to set about following those goals. In fact, this will tend to make the other things happen, since once you are headed along a trajectory towards your goals, things like getting enough rest and getting along with your family will have to fall into line. This is especially important if you became an addict when you were in your teens, when you may not have already worked out the goals for your future. The future is a blank slate, and it is up to you to decide what you want to be, do and have, but you have to make that decision and carry it out.
Not everything has to happen immediately, so give yourself a break. What, exactly, do we mean by this? Simply put, we are probably harder on ourselves than others are, in that we expect too much, too soon. When we've just come out of drug rehab, we're still pretty raw, still smarting, if you will, from all that we've gone through. After all, getting clean and sober is quite an accomplishment in and of itself, not to mention how we're trying to approach this new life of sobriety post-treatment.