Self Harm

door in garden

In working with adolescents and families for a number of years, I have seen the various looks of a parent – the angry look, the disgusted look, the frustrated look, the look of disdain and disbelief.  By far, the most concerning has been the look of fear and utter helplessness that parents experience when they find out their child is self harming.  With many parents having little experience or information about this, they often react out of fear and protection, as well as relying on stereotypes and less-than-reliable resources to give them direction during this often frightening time.

Self  Harm is a clinical term that covers many different kinds of self injury.  Self Injury can start out as simply as scratching one’s arm or legs.  Some individuals may remove the small eraser at the end of a # 2 pencil, and push the round metal piece together to then be used as a sharp instrument.  Others begin their self injury using the blade from a pencil sharpener.  This can lead to using a razor, a kitchen knife, or an exacto-knife.  Many individuals can find many creative ways to develop, make or use every day objects to self injure.   These everyday objects are hard to eliminate from anyone’s life and make the tool used to self injure regularly accessible and easy to use.

One of the most puzzling looks of a parent often includes the word “WHY?”  For those who have no experience with this, understanding self injury seems impossible.  However, there are some basic concepts that may help you to understand, even if you do NOT agree with the behaviors.  Self injury can be addictive.  When self-injury is repeated it can become addictive.  And many times, I see this lead to self injury developing a life of its’ own.

The most common form of self-injury is cutting or burning oneself.   Other forms of self injury include: hair pulling, face picking, self-hitting, head banging, severe skin scratching, bone breaking, or interfering with wound healing.  Any of these behaviors can become addictive for the individual due to the the emotional release that occurs with the self injury.  The individual’s inability to emotionally regulate then leads to their repetitive pattern of self injury as it becomes a way to self regulate.  The perpetuating cycle is often very difficult to break without professional help.

If you have someone you love who is self harming, or simply want more information, there are a number of reliable and safe resources out there.  Below I have listed two quick links for you to connect to and in future posts, I will talk more about warning signs and ways to handle the initial discovery and what to do next.  Information is key and keeping the communication loving and open is crucial.

And as always, if you need professional help, we are here for you – please contact our Southlake Office at 704-896-7776 or go to our website – www.southlakecounseling.com

http://www.adolescentselfinjuryfoundation.com

http://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu/about-self-injury.html

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Resisting the Urge to Surf

Surf? You probably saw the title to this week’s Monday Motivator and thought, “What does surfing have to do with a blog about recovery, health, and wellness?”

Not much, if we are talking about the kind of surfing that comes with an oblong flat board, sleek black wetsuit, and a bank of high, toasty waves.

But when it comes to facilitating a continuity of wellness that exhibits consistent restraint in the face of compulsive, urge-like addictive tendencies, we can learn a lot from surfing.

“Urge surfing” is a term coined by Alan Marlatt, director of the University of Washington’s Addictive Behaviors Research Center. The technique was developed by Marlatt to combat the “abstinence-violation effect,” or the feeling of internal powerlessness we get after we have transgressed against our self-imposed health or wellness standards. Once we have crossed that internal line over into following our urges instead of exhibiting restraint, Marlatt explains, we may feel an intense discouragement and reason that our course is already set, so we might as well continue down the damage path rather than correcting our course.

This, as you might imagine, not only feels awful, but has fairly unpleasant effects upon our lives and in our relationships.

In Marlatt’s many years of experience as one of the leading authorities on preventing relapse, how we relate to our lapses is the primary contributing factor as to whether we will engage in further urge-type behaviors.

To combat the downward spiral that the abstinence-violation effect induces, Marlatt suggests a healthy and consistent application of “urge surfing.”  Urge surfing refers to an effective relapse prevention technique we can use to “ride out” the relatively brief span of time in which our urges feel powerful enough to potentially overtake us.

Urges, Marlatt explains, are like waves. They roll in, and then they roll out again. Most urges arise and subside within a thirty minute time period. So if we learn how to “ride out” the urge without resisting, judging, or otherwise jumping on the urge bandwagon, it will eventually subside naturally with no undue ill effects.

When practicing urge surfing, Marlatt teaches, we do not fight with our urges. Fighting with our urges gives them additional power and potency in our awareness, which just makes it that much harder for us to resist them.

So instead, we just observe them, like a surfer would observe a wave that he or she did not want to catch. Eventually, the wave would unfurl itself completely and dissolve back into the ocean, leaving us with calm seas in its wake.

So the next time you feel the temptation to engage with urge-related thoughts that have the potential to lead to relapse behaviors, follow these simple steps to try urge surfing instead:

  1. Simply observe the urge as it arises. Tell yourself, “There is no harm or judgment in acknowledging that I am feeling an urge. It is just a wave. I will watch but not act.”
  2. Pay attention to your breath as an aid to keeping a big-picture perspective. This helps you avoid the tendency to develop “urge tunnel vision,” which focuses your awareness so intensely on the urge that it begins to feel unstoppable and overwhelming.
  3. Notice the types of thoughts you are having around the urge…for instance, “Wow I sure would love to (fill-in-the-blank) right now. Boy that would feel/taste/etc good. Hmmm. Yes. I sure wish I could do/say/experience (fill-in-the-blank)right now. Yup. Very interesting.” Keep observing and notice how your own experience of having the urge shifts and changes in intensity, focus, and duration as the wave continues to roll in and then right by you.
  4. Instead of fearing the sensation of the urge and of the consequences should you choose to follow it, maintain an objective, scientific, “research” mindset. Study the urge as if you were a scientist noting down observations so you could write up a report about it later. If it helps, pretend it is not your urge, but someone else’s urge that you are documenting.
  5. As the urge subsides, be prepared to journal about your findings. Note especially how the craving eventually subsided and how the experience of watching and observing the urge was different from the experience of fighting with, resisting, or attempting to ignore the presence of the urge.
  6. Be sure to congratulate and celebrate yourself for trying on a new approach to your urges!

Urge surfing is a powerful, empirically-supported relapse prevention technique that has helped many individuals change their relationship with their urges to smoke, binge eat, use substances, drink, and other self-damaging, unhealthy behaviors. Marlatt encourages first time urge surfing practitioners to remember that learning any new skill is like learning to ride a bicycle – we are bound to fall off a few times as we learn. But as we continue to persevere, the skill feels more natural and innate, and slowly but surely urge surfing becomes part of our repertoire of trusted tools we can use to reclaim the health and balance in our daily lives.

If you are struggling to relate in healthy and life-affirming ways to the presence of your urges, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate, skilled professional staff is well-versed in Mindfulness techniques like urge surfing. We know what it feels like to confront a significant life challenge such as relapse in a recovery or health program, and we have supported many individuals to make lasting positive changes in their relationship with their bodies, minds, relationships, and environments. Contact us today to learn more about how urge surfing and Mindfulness can be an aid and a support to you in saying “no” to urges and “yes” to wellness and balance in 2011 and beyond!

Be Well,

Kimberly


Recent Research Reveals Sugar More Addictive than Cocaine

Hi everyone, Kimberly Krueger, here In a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times, there was an article about the addictive nature of sugar. I think the research findings are important and fascinating, so I’m going to share it with you.

Researchers have learned that rats overwhelmingly prefer water sweetened with saccharin to cocaine, a finding that demonstrates the addictive potential of sweets.

Offering larger doses of cocaine did not alter the rats’ preference for saccharin, according to the report.

Scientists said the study, presented this week in San Diego at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, might help explain the rise in human obesity, which has been driven in part by an over consumption of sugary foods.

In the experiment, 43 rats were placed in cages with two levers, one of which delivered an intravenous dose of cocaine and the other a sip of highly sweetened water. At the end of the 15-day trial, 40 of the rats consistently chose saccharin instead of water.

When sugar water was substituted for the saccharin solution the results were the same, researchers said.

Further testing subjected 24 cocaine-addicted rats to a similar trial. At the end of 10 days, the majority of them preferred saccharin.

“Intense sweetness is more rewarding to the rats than cocaine,” said coauthor Magalie Lenoir of the University of Bordeaux in France. “Excess sugar could increase levels of the brain chemical dopamine, leading to a craving for sweets,” she said.

Lenoir said mammalian taste receptors evolved in an environment that lacked sugar and so were not adapted to the high concentrations of sweets found in the modern diet. Cocaine also increases dopamine, but through a different brain mechanism.

So, there we have it folks, the research is in: eating sugar causes cravings for more sugar.  *Tiffany Brown, MS, LPCA-A coordinator of the Weight A Second weight management program at Southlake Center suggests the following tips to decrease sugar cravings:

      1.    Frequent Meals. Eating meals at regular intervals will prevent drops in blood sugar that trigger cravings.

      2.   Eat Whole Foods. Fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains contain some naturally occurring sugars, but they also offer dietary fiber and important nutrients to help balance blood sugar.

      3.   The More Natural, The Better. Choose an orange, rather than orange juice. Not only will you get less sugar, but you’ll also benefit from more nutrients.

      4.   Beware Of Fat-Free Labels. These foods actually contribute to health and weight problems. What the labels don’t tell you is that these products contain more sugar – sometimes two or more times that found in the “regular” versions.

      5.   Assess.  Are you actually just thirsty, or sleepy?  Oftentimes sugar cravings are just misread signals for other needs.

Hope these suggestions help.  And if you would like to know more about saying No to Diets and Yes to life, be sure to contact us at Southlake and we’ll get you started right away.

Be well,

Kimberly

*Tiffany Brown, MS, LPCA-A is certified through ACE as a personal trainer and group instructor.  She is also certified through the NCBDN as a weight loss/nutrition instructor. Tiffany is provisionally licensed by the NC Board of Licensed Professional Counselors.  She is Southlake’s newest team member and is coordinator for Southlake’s Weight A Second Weight Management Program.

The Disease Concept of Addiction

For many addiction is a problem whether it be alcohol or drugs, pornograpy, gambling or shopping.. Many people strugging with their addiction also struggle with loved ones’ negative judgements about their addiction. I have heard many times either addicts or loved ones talk about their addiction as a “lack of will power” or being “morally corrupt.” Both these statements are not only harmful to the addict, but are also incorrect.

Addiction is a disease that has a natural course like any disease such as diabetes, asthma or cancer. If left untreated the addict will progress through various stages in their addiction with the final destination either being “jails, institutions, or death.”

E.M. Jellinek has done a lot of research on Alchoholism and has published the Jellinek Curve that outlines the various stages one with alcoholism goes through. Although each individual may not go through the stages in an exact succession such as 1-2-3, they will make a linear progression.

Since addiction is a disease, it is best treated through an approach that incorporates one’s spiritual, mental, physical and emotional needs. It is also a disease that effects the family and effective treatment should also incorporate the family as well as the individual.

Treatment should involve individual therapy, involvement in the 12-step community for the addict as well as the family and family therapy. Community 12-step meetings are available everywhere and at various times throughout the day, eliminating any excuses for not attending. Family members can be a healthy support by setting boundaries and acknowledging that addiction is a disease.

Shannon T. Brewer, M.A., L.P.A.