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Guest Blog Post: Back to School Stress Management

Happy Friday! August is almost here and that means a new school year is just on the horizon. Today’s blog post comes from Jill Ahrens, one of our counselors at the Center for Recovering Families with our sister organization, The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston. Jill regularly works with adolescents and their families to provide prevention and counseling services for adolescents struggling with substance abuse, mental health issues and behavior problems.

Back to School Stress Management
By Jill Ahrens, M.Ed., LPC, Choices Program Manager, The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston


Back to School Stress


With the beginning of a new school year just around the corner, parents and their children are much more likely to have increased stress levels.  Whether you are a parent of a child who attends an elementary, middle school, or high school (or all three!) or the student enrolled in school, there are many changes that come with the beginning of a new school year.

With this increased stress and change comes an increase of cortisol in the body and brain.  Cortisol is a stress hormone which is vital to homeostasis in the adrenal system.  Prolonged release of cortisol can suppress the effects of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that makes us feel calm and happy.  With the increase in cortisol and the suppression of dopamine that occurs during stress, people often seek out an easy fix like drugs, alcohol, comfort food, video games, or other destructive behaviors to help manage the way they feel.  Of course, these behaviors can provide temporary relief which allows these negative coping strategies to create a large spike dopamine in the brain.  This may result in a quick euphoria or feeling of happiness, but the results are not long lasting and can ultimately lead to addiction.

This school year, a focus on positive coping strategies when dealing with stress and change can reduce the likelihood of you or your children engaging in high-risk, potentially addictive behaviors.  This is a very important time for parents to pay attention, monitor their children’s health, behaviors, thoughts and feelings.  Parents should listen carefully, learn and model stress management skills, and support involvement in clubs, sports, and other pro-social activities.  Also, as evidenced by a decade of research by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, the more often children have dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to use and abuse substances.

There are many healthy, effective ways to reduce or manage stress.  Things like eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and exercise help us keep our endorphins flowing and help us deal with the day to day stressors we experience in life.  If you suspect your child or adolescent is struggling with stressors or maladaptive behaviors, seek help as soon as possible to minimize to potential impact and to increase his or her positive coping strategies.

If you are a parent, counselor, or educator, make sure to sign up for one of our Back to School CEU Workshops to learn about the latest prevention techniques and current drugs of abuse. If you live in the Austin area, click here for more information on the one-day Back to School CEU Workshop Austin Recovery will be hosting on Wednesday, August 6. If you live in Houston, click here to learn more about the two-day Back to School CEU Workshop that our sister organization, The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston, will be hosting on Thursday, August 7 and Friday, August 8.

Guest Blog Post: Loving Your Loved One Through Addiction

Today on the blog, one of our amazing volunteers, Sara Richey, a Community, Family and Addiction Services Major at Texas Tech University, graciously shares some thoughts on how to love someone battling addiction based on her personal experiences. Enjoy!

Loving Your Loved One Through Addiction
By Sara Richey , Volunteer at Austin Recovery

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There is a lot of information about what to do/act/say when your loved one is going through recovery, but what about when they are still active in their addiction? The hardest thing, from my experience, is to know what to do while you’re loved one is barreling through the continuum of addiction with no sign of wanting to stop. What I found out the hard way, is that the addict will not seek help sincerely with the intention of sobriety unless it is their personal choice.

This disease has taken the life of my uncle, and is still holding on tight to my brother and my other uncle.

Helplessness. Helplessness is what you feel when the person(s) you love, are related to, share the same DNA with can’t stop killing themselves with substances. A new realm of helplessness entered my life when I discovered that no one in my family was willing to acknowledge the fact that addiction was going to continue to take the lives of more of our loved ones if things did not change. Nor, would they address this problem as a family disease, not just a disease within my brother and uncle. Making addiction your “family secret” will not fix any problem, but from experience, hiding your family’s struggle will do more damage than anything.

But what I can tell you without any hesitation that the best thing you can do for an addict who is a prisoner to this disease, is to love them unconditionally. Unconditional love has no shame, it doesn’t produce guilt, and it is not a weapon for punishment. Unconditional love can sometimes be their only reason to choose recovery. It may be the only thing that is keeping them on this earth.

Until your loved one chooses sobriety, you can choose love—the unconditional kind.

Guest Blog Post: Parental Engagement with Teenagers

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Parental Engagement with Teenagers
By Crystal Collier, LPC-S, PhD, Director of the Behavioral Health Institute,  The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston

Parental engagement is more difficult to maintain in our world-wide web, multitasking, and self-focused universe.  However, parental engagement is vital to raising a healthy, well-adjusted teenager. Of course, they will never tell you that themselves! At times, it seems like parents are the last people they want to engage with.

The teenage brain goes through an amazing growth process beginning at age 11-12. The amygdala, a brain region that governs the fight or flight response, completely matures by early adolescence. A mature amygdala causes teens to become more angry and hostile, a very important part of growing up! Think about it. Our children are very attached to us but they need to detach somewhat and begin the process of individuation and identity development. A fully developed amygdala gives them the motivation to push away from parents. Although very painful for both parents and teens, it is a normal part of healthy development. Another critical brain region also comes online about the same time. The nucleus accumbens, a region associated with pleasure and novelty-seeking, compels adolescents out into their environment to try on new behaviors and ideas. This curiosity is crucial to healthy identity development but very scary for parents who know the real dangers.

Thus, parents must remain engaged but also allow certain calculated risks. As your adolescent develops their adult brain, parents can begin letting go and allowing their teens brain the opportunity to grow. According to How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid: The Straight Dope for Parents by Joseph A. Califano, Jr., research demonstrates the following parental engagement approaches that help to raise a healthy adolescent and prevent them from engaging in high-risk behavior.

1. Be there. Get involved your children’s lives and activities.

2. Open the lines of communication and keep them wide open.

3. Set a good example. Actions are more persuasive than words.

4. Set rules and expect your children to follow them. It is good practice to create a family contract that outlines rewards and consequences, whether it is written or just verbally agreed upon.

5. Monitor your children’s whereabouts and who they hang out with. Know your kid’s friend’s parents.

6. Maintain family rituals, such as eating dinner. Longitudinal studies demonstrate that high-risk behavior increases when family dinner frequency decreases.

7. Incorporate religious and spiritual practices into family life.

8. Get Dad engaged and keep him engaged. Consistent involvement by fathers also reduces the risk teens engaging in high-risk behavior.

9. Engage with the larger community. Attend missions trips together, volunteer to feed the homeless, go on multi-family vacations, etc. When adolescents feel connected to their community, their empathy and sense of purpose grows.

10. Talk to your kids about smoking, drinking, drugs and other high-risk behavior-create a family code of ethics. Don’t ever hesitate to get parent coaching by a trained clinician in order to create a family code of ethics or behavior contract. The more the family code is repeated at home, the more it will be repeated outside of home.

When adolescents are asked to discuss the reasons why they chose NOT to engage in high-risk activity, their number one answer is “My Mom would kick my but!” It is true that friends are more important than parents to adolescents when it comes to interpersonal and social issues. However, when asked about life-threatening or moral issues, adolescents report that they look to their parents for direction. They really do want guidance and are more likely to seek it out if they feel connected to their parents.

Guest Blog Post: Where We Currently Stand – Upon the “Threshold of Tomorrow”

Today’s guest blog post is written by Jacquelyn Small, the author of Becoming Naturally Therapeutic, A Return to the True Essence of Helping;  Awakening in Time: The Journey from Codependence to Co-creation; Transformers, the Artists of Self-Creation; The Sacred Purpose of Being Human, and several other books on personal growth and transformation. An inspired speaker and teacher, Jacquelyn conducts workshops and seminars throughout North America, and is the founding director of Eupsychia, Inc., a training and certification institute for Psychospiritual Integration and Integrative Breathwork, based in Austin, Texas.

Where We Currently Stand: Upon the “Threshold of Tomorrow”
By Jacquelyn Small


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This writing is about our addiction to the human condition.  And our escape from this debilitating state of affairs.  I hope to show you how we can overcome this plight and heal, and begin moving on toward a life of fulfillment and freedom — in spite of our pain and grief and all the negativity that is an inherent part of our human experience.  I’m also hoping to impart some ideas that might ignite a new spark of creativity within the addiction treatment field itself.  There’s a way people can heal from the focus on an addictive lifestyle, but it requires serving the whole Self, and not by attempting to “treat” a fragmented and diseased part (who has no power over keeping its host healthy anyway).  This is where most addiction programs have gotten stuck — it’s a matter of a new perspective concerning what makes up a human being, and how does this real Self heal?

I want to offer the field, and anyone else interested, a “new paradigm” philosophy of healing that will encompass our wholeness, containing the understanding now coming from both science and the more enlightened “new thought” churches and beyond, who are both discovering that we have everything already inside us to give us the key to our completion and whole-hearted fulfillment right now.  No matter what our current circumstances are.

Some of this material you’re about to explore may not be well-received from within the addictions field itself, because much of it is based on a philosophy of health and the Self that stands for the exact opposite, in some respects, of what has been called “treatment” and “recovery” in the past.  Some of our now outmoded, partial, and illusory thinking has been so destructive to the real Self that it has thickened the veil of Illusion that hides the ways we truly heal and come into our wholeness.  Our old ways of working are no longer effective.

The addiction recovery field is currently in a state of crisis, not because we’ve done a poor job, but because we’ve come to the end of an era. Something has completed, and now everything is going to change.  We are entering into a whole new era of human history and, consequently, are undergoing a crisis in consciousness known as a “paradigm shift.”  Like watching a cloud in the sky magically reshape itself into a new formation, we are all poised on the brink of a whole new way of being.  All the health-related fields and disciplines are obviously affected by this new paradigm’s rapidly-shifting criterion.  And it follows, due to the ways of evolution, that our models of treatment for addiction must reflect this shift in consciousness in order to be effective, for the client we serve is no longer the same client we were serving — even last month!  The Self, in its evolutionary journey, has taken a leap.

Today we see a diminishing of “the medical model” as the one-and-only governing principle in addiction treatment, and indeed, for many other health-related issues as well.  Even the program of Alcoholics Anonymous as we’ve known it to be is experiencing a shift.  As one “old timer” said recently:  “We used to sit around smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, and reminding each other to keep it simple and go to meetings.  And that was enough.  But today, these newcomers don’t drink coffee, cigarette smoke makes them sick, and they’re bored with this kind of talk.”

Transformation is literally “in the air,” and we are all being affected by its energies. Recovering people are beginning to ask different questions, and want to express their true feelings in meetings in more spontaneous ways.  They want to know the meaning of their illness, and the factors in the way of their growth.

Consciousness has entered into Time.  It is the Awakener. And it is enhancing its existence in the human world through us.  So we, as its carriers, are receiving messages, inspirations, understanding, and creative ideas through contact with our inner life. The questing human spirit is moving into the deeper strata of the psyche, the existential and transpersonal realms, where the meaning of one’s life and our purpose for being on this planet are relevant and compelling issues we feel we must explore.  We are shifting from the personal to the “impersonal” life of service and group consciousness, wanting to take more responsibility for ourselves and for our world, which we see now is dying due to our lack of respect.  A “wake up” call is issuing forth from deep within us all, and our lives are forming around a spiritual quest in search of more fertile ground for our evolving souls.

Needless to say, these are discomforting times, as we stand at the threshold of the nebulous “unknown.”   A new millennium is upon us, bringing untold exciting mysteries and great amounts of hope that we can indeed create a world we’d all like to share in.   What is being demanded of us now is to somehow hold steady while we fashion a new philosophy and lifestyles big enough to encompass this expanding world and our expanding Self.  We must utilize theories and methods of mental health, addiction treatment and recovery that will meet these emergent higher needs at this amazing, but unsettling time we’re currently living in.

Psychospiritual Integration the marriage of our psychological self with our soul, is a process designed to help prepare us for this threshold time. In this emergent Age, all human beings will learn to align with the soul, or our essential Self.  It is a ‘psychology of completion’ for the ending of an Age.  It is based on the knowledge that we are not human beings trying to become spiritual; we are spiritual beings learning to be human, which is an identity shift that is, in itself, transformational.

At the closing of every Age we are required to review our lives and bring forth the “goods” that we’ve gained, while shedding the patterns of dysfunction we don’t wish to carry forward.   This is an evolutionary task that enables our species to refine itself and come into its full blossoming as the completed Human Being — a brand new archetype to walk on planet earth in all its hard-won glory and radiant beauty that comes from having lived.

The healing of our childhood wounds and addiction of any kind plays an enormous part in completing our purification before we can leap into another mode.  You could even say that addiction, broadly perceived, is the entire problem that we face as human beings — which is facing in the wrong direction to try and meet our needs.  All addictions occur through looking outside for what can only be found from within.  Without our history of having taken on addiction and all other kinds of distortion and stress, we’d not know the wonder of being fully whole.  If we’d never felt lost, we would never feel found!  We’d only know the positive, and would therefore be only light.  With no darkness to define our shape, making us distinct, we’d have no substance and this life on earth would have had no personal meaning whatsoever.  It would all have been for naught.

The purpose of human suffering is to enrich our experience as spiritual beings.  We know the passions of the senses now, having allowed ourselves to be human.  Don’t you see how heroic you are, from having opted for this divine experiment?  It’s all been on purpose, and it’s all been good — though, only God knows how we’ve survived it!  Carl Jung believed God was part trickster.  And it certainly does seem to be the case.  I can’t imagine ever doing this, unless I was put to sleep when I embarked on this great planetary mission.  And, quite frankly, I believe that’s exactly what did happen.  I think we went to sleep — on purpose.  So we could forget our divine heritage long enough to become involved.  I’ll go more deeply into this subject later.  But for now, welcome to this notion that we’re ready to transmute into a whole new kind of human.  Through the process of integrating our psyche and our soul, we can live on the threshold of this new world we’re about to enter with the least amount of grief; for we’ll have a strong and healthy ego who can withstand the pressures here, while simultaneously remembering at all times that we are “in this world and not of it,” that we’ve already survived, and in our higher Self remain in tact, never having been damaged in the least.

Through the process of psycho-spiritual merging, we learn the ego’s right relation to the soul, our true Self.  We find that it’s the Self who aligns with a Higher Power, and the ego’s rightful place is one of surrender and servitude to this amazing soul — its concrete instrument for expression in this world.  The shift away from ego-dominance to soul-alignment is the task at hand.  This shift is already reflected in the addiction’s field Twelve-Step philosophy of “surrendering to a Higher Power,” and “turning our lives over to a God of our understanding.”  But in the past, controlling one’s addiction seemed to be enough.  And many programs still focus mainly on the dysfunction and disease of addiction, leaving out any knowledge of the Self, how it heals and moves forward toward whole new ways of being.  There has been little interest in the concept of wholeness or in drawing forth our own inner healer or core goodness.  We’ve done much good, and we’ve learned a lot, but have stopped short of a true recovery.  And the high recidivism in most medically-based programs reflect this lack of completion.

I hope this writing will offer you much insight and inspiration for the building of our new treatment industry.  For the people of this world, more than ever now, are going to need a way to heal.  We need to create loving settings where people can come feel safe while grieving out their pain, or rage out their fury, over the troubles they’ve had.  Without the fear of judgment!  For in the process of awakening, we all need to know we have a right to be just exactly where we are in our process of healing.  Like traveling on a journey from Texas to New York, we may have only gotten halfway, or hardly started at all.  But what is there to judge about such a matter?  Surely we can see that we all need the same thing from one another:  the right to be who we are, and loved and honored for it.  Can you think of anything you’ve ever really wanted more?


For information about Eupsychia’s work, write P. O. Box 151960, Austin, Texas 78715, phone 512/327-2795.  Website: For information about Eupsychia’s work, write P. O. Box 151960, Austin, Texas 78715, phone 512/327-2795.  Website:

Mark Your Calendars for July Events at Austin Recovery

Gateway to Recovery - July 2 & 9, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The Gateway to Recovery series provides information on how to detect addiction and what friends and families can do to help those needing treatment. This information series is free and often the first step in helping people find treatment and begin the healing process. Facilitated by Mary Boone, LCSW, LCDC, Gateway to Recovery is held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the first and second Wednesday of each month at Austin Recovery (8402 Cross Park Dr., Austin, TX, 78754).  Click here for more information.

Juli Hartmann Second Saturday Workshop – July 12, 10 a.m. to 12 noon
“Family Dynamics” presented by Juli Hartmann, M.A.H.S., LPC-S
Family work can be a beautiful and often stressful process. A family is a collection of unique individuals doing their best to interact successfully, and is not necessarily limited to parents and children living together. This workshop will address family systems, the concept of family homeostasis, how addiction of various kinds can affect family dynamics, and how family support can assist in recovery. Participants at this workshop will learn some fundamentals and intricacies of family systems, how to connect issues of addiction to family dynamics, and how to identify challenges related to this complex and finely tuned mechanism called Family. Two hours of continuing education credits are offered to chemical dependency professionals with LCDC, ADC, LMFT, LCSW and LMSW certifications as approved by DSHS and TCBAP. Second Saturday is held at Austin Recovery (8402 Cross Park Dr., Austin, TX, 78754). Click here for more information.

UT School of Social Work Presentation at Austin Recovery – July 25, 9 a.m. to 12 noon
“DSM Updates and Clinical Implications:  Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders in the DSM-5″ presented by Donna Rolin-Kenny, PhD, APRN, PMHCNS-BC and Tiffany Allen, MSSW.
This session will review changes from DSM-IV to DSM-5 to the Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders categorization. Participants will learn how current diagnostic categories and symptom criteria have been changed and what new diagnoses have emerged. 3 CEUs available.  Click here to RSVPPresentation is held at Austin Recovery (8402 Cross Park Dr., Austin, TX, 78754). Click here for more information.

Austin Recovery Alumni Events
Join the Austin Recovery Alumni for fun events and fellowship throughout the week. Events include Sunday Night Alumni Speaker Meetings, Big Book study groups, Musical Journey, skating, hikes around Lady Bird Lake, drum circles, bowling nights, game nights, evenings at the coffee shop and more. For more information, contact Austin Recovery Alumni Services Coordinator Cary Acevedo at 512-697-8513 or click on the Alumni events link on

Volunteer Opportunities at Austin Recovery
Austin Recovery is always looking for volunteers to provide additional support to our clients in residential addiction treatment in the following areas: financial planning, parenting skills, healthy relationships, job readiness/ interviewing skills, stress management, anger management, self-esteem and abuse issues. We also need volunteers for clerical work, yoga, arts and crafts, dance, spa days (pedicures, manicures, hairstyling), recreation and weightlifting. If you are interested or have questions, please contact Austin Recovery Director of Volunteer Services Sinclair Fleetwood at 512-697-8537 or

Guest Blog Post: How to Talk to Kids About Recovery

 It takes great courage to address the struggles and obstacles your family may be experiencing with substance abuse and addiction. Today on the blog, we hear from Christine Foster, LMSW and Children’s Therapist at our sister organization, The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston about how to show your children that family can prevail and that healing is possible. Christine works with young children every day to help them understand and process what addiction means to their family system. She also facilitates Kids Camp at The Council, a four-day prevention program designed for children ages 7-12 who have families who have struggled with substance abuse or are still struggling. To learn more about Kids Camp at The Council, please click here.

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How to Talk to Kids About Recovery
By Christine Foster, LMSW, Children’s Therapist, The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston

As a children’s therapist working with families struggling with addiction, I have been witness to the absolute joy children and families experience when their parent or loved one steps into the world of recovery.  It is the thing youngsters dreamed and prayed about night after night.  So, just like a good fairy tale it seems the story should end and everyone “lives happily ever after”; however, with recovery comes a new story complete with struggles, joys, hopes, and rebuilding.

Often, there are unexpected difficulties that arise when attempting to change a family system, even if it is for the better.  For example, parents sometimes fall into 1 of 2 categories in early recovery: permissiveness due to guilt about previous behaviors in their addiction OR authoritarian “you’re not going to end up like me”.  Talking to kids about a parent’s recovery is important to prepare them for the different dynamics that may begin to exist.  Children may resist at first or feel confused because it is not what they are used to, but in the end the parent is creating a safe environment for a kid to be a kid.

Over and over again, I hear the same questions asked by children whose parents are in recovery. Today, I’d like to explore a few of these recurring questions, discuss potential motivators for these thoughts, and educate those individuals overcoming an addiction with positive ways to address them.

“Why do you have to go to meetings all the time?”

Children only have their own perspective to rely on when attempting to understand the world around them.  Although, going to support group meetings is an essential part of staying sober; all children see is time spent away from the family and may even interpret the absence as a consequence to something they had done wrong.  This thinking is developmentally appropriate and supports the understanding of children as “ego-centric”; however, it is the role of the parent/caregiver to validate the feelings and provide truthful information to correct misunderstanding.

A good starting point to answering this question could look like the following:

“I know it’s been hard for you with me being gone so much.  I miss spending time with you, too.  The meetings I go to are called AA meetings and they are for people like me that used to drink too much (or use drugs).  We help each other not use alcohol or drugs.  Would you like to see what it is like?

Although, we do not always encourage bringing children to meetings as the content may not be age appropriate and feel overwhelming, you can simulate a meeting with your family: check-in, say the serenity prayer together, talk about struggles and gratitude’s, etc.  When children have a strong understanding of the purpose and can picture the meeting, it may ease some of the sadness and anxiety.

“I’m so glad you are better and don’t have addiction anymore.”

We work with the understanding that addiction is a disease living in the brain.  It is caused by an overactive pleasure system that floods the brain with dopamine and glutamate causing it to seek out substances or other high risk behaviors.  Try explaining that one to kids.

Remember that fairy tale reference earlier?  Well, in Kids Camp at The Council we play to children’s attraction to stories and the fantasy world in order to teach about the struggle with substance abuse.  We personify addiction as a villain and T&R (treatment and recovery) as a superhero, literally – there is a sparkly purple cape and everything!  They learn concepts like, if a person says “Yes” to addiction they become trapped and no matter how hard they try to get away Addiction is too strong.  However, when a trapped person says “Help”; Addiction knows he’s in trouble because T&R is on his way to save the day!  We also teach about relapse, it means the same thing as “re-addicted”.  We want to normalize relapse as part of the disease, so there are no surprises when or if relapse occurs.

If your child begins to assume you are “cured” (as a child might say) the best approach is an honest one:

“T&R has helped me stay away from addiction for a long time.  I haven’t had a drink (or used drugs) in ___months/years and I feel proud of that.  It is important that I keep going to meetings and taking care of myself.  I still can’t have a drink though, because then I could get trapped by addiction again.”

It is also a good idea to make a relapse plan with the family and communicate the appropriate parts of the plan with the children:

“If I do have a drink, you will go to Grandma’s house and I will go get help.  If you ever feel scared or think I might drink you can always call Grandma.  She is a safe person to talk to.”

“Promise me you will never go back to Addiction again.”

Never make a promise you can’t keep.  Although, you cannot promise you will never drink or use drugs again; you can promise that you will work really hard to keep hanging out with T&R.  An essential component to adult recovery as well as kid recovery is letting out: feelings, problems, and secrets.  Adults let these burdens out in meetings, praying, talking to a sponsor or friend, journaling.  It is just as important for children to have healthy outlets as well: talking, crying, writing, playing, drawing, playing, singing, did I mention play? By modeling the value of “letting it out” you are not only building strong familial relationships, but you are equipping your children with tools to stay away from Addiction.

Rather than making promises of absolute sobriety, focus on your work ethic and the continued healing process in general:

“I promise I will work really hard to stay away from addiction by letting out my feelings, problems, and secrets to safe people.  It is also important to me that you are able to let it out, too.  I love you so much and nothing will ever change that!”

The path to recovery can be overwhelming, difficult, complex and ultimately joyful. The effects of an individual’s addiction and recovery can be seen and deeply felt by their loved ones, especially their children, who are more perceptive than people often give them credit for. By understanding ways to openly communicate about these issues, a parent going through this transition will play an active role in creating a healthy, safe environment for their children to process.


Introducing Center for Recovering Families: Austin Recovery’s Family-Focused Outpatient Program

Family-Focused Outpatient Program Launches in Austin
Austin Recovery has opened the Center for Recovering Families outpatient program to expand services for individuals and their families seeking support in Central Texas

  Edith Royal Rob Arnold Patti Halladay Cutting Ribbon 4 (Smaller)This week Austin Recovery Board members, staff, alumni, donors, and community partners gathered for a ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony at Austin Recovery’s new Center for Recovering Families family-focused outpatient program.  The new facility was dedicated to long-time supporter and former Board member Edith Royal.  Mrs. Royal, along with Board Chairs Rob Arnold and Patti Halladay, cut the ribbon to officially open the newest program for the 47-year-old non-profit drug and alcohol treatment center.  The program further expands the organization’s emphasis on treating the entire family, complementing other family services that include an intensive family weekend program, ongoing family education, and Family House, where women can bring young children with them into residential addiction treatment.

“At the Center for Recovering Families, every family member affected by the family disease of addiction is a client,” said Dr. Abi Williams, Austin Recovery Senior Clinical Advisor. “When family members and loved ones are involved with an addicted person, it can be overwhelming.  They may feel confused, helpless, angry and frustrated.  The Center is a resource for everyone, and helps build a family system around recovery, while the individual is treated for his or her addiction.”

The program, which originated in Houston, has run successfully for the last few decades as part of Austin Recovery’s sister organization, The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston.  “Research shows that outcomes improve when the entire family is involved in treatment,” said Mel Taylor, President and CEO of Austin Recovery and The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston.  “This program not only helps to heal the entire family, but it also gives the individual a better chance at maintaining long-term sobriety.”

Center Exterior (Smaller)The Center for Recovering Families is a unique treatment program for individuals and families who battle addiction, alcoholism, and other mental health issues.  Through “small by design” intensive and supportive outpatient treatment groups, multi-family groups, and experiential therapies, the Center works closely with clients to explore early life experiences, feelings, trauma, and an array of process addictions and co-occurring disorders.  The purpose of a family approach to treatment is for all individuals involved to address the multiple layers of the addiction experience, in order to achieve sobriety and an enhanced quality of life. Center for Recovering Families – Austin is located in northwest Austin off Mopac Service Road between Far West Blvd. and Spicewood Springs Rd.

Guest Blog Post: The DSM-V: Change for the Better

The DSM-V: Change for the Better

By Brooke Williams, LMSW, LCDC, Director of Admissions at Austin Recovery

DSM-V Blog BannerDiagnosing mental health disorders, including but not limited to substance use disorders, is not a cut and dry; black and white process. There is no X-Ray or blood test to analyze, no lab work which will rule out and confirm diagnoses. Mental health practitioners have relatively little data to rely on and oftentimes must use the history of the client, the presentation of the individual at the time of the assessment, knowledge and understanding of the different disorders, and in many ways—instinct in order to properly diagnose. I had a professor in graduate school who, when answering a question from a fellow classmate regarding the difference between two diagnoses paused for quite a while before simply stating, “They’re just different—you’ll just know.” This, of course, was completely absurd. I remember feeling a sense of panic creep into my (already wafer-thin) confidence—How was I ever going to learn the difference if she didn’t TELL me the difference? Now, after a few years in the field working with clients experiencing a myriad of mental health disorders I think I know exactly what she meant— academic knowledge will only get you so far, your gut will have to take you the rest of the way.

The standard that mental health practitioners use to diagnose is called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the fifth edition was just released 13 months ago, causing an uproar in the mental health community. In my opinion a large portion of this uproar came from opposition to change (any change at all can be difficult) some of the concerns were valid but the majority of objections I’ve read seem to come from practitioners who are not very concerned with adjusting; those who want to keep giving the same diagnoses in the same way that they always have, even if there is evidence to suggest that it is not in the best service of the patient. For the majority of the clients that I see, those suffering from addiction and substance abuse issues, the DSM-V has really improved the quality as well as the prognosis of their diagnoses, and has created language to clarify the difference between substance-induced mental health disorders and other psychiatric disorders.

If you are in recovery or if you know someone in recovery you probably understand that when an addict is using they are not the same person as when they are sober. Usually they don’t speak the same way, their thought process is altered, they can be more impulsive, and they may experience extreme rage or hallucinations. Some people fall into such a depressed state while using that they stop functioning altogether, and may even attempt to take their own lives. These behaviors can be symptoms of a variety of psychiatric disorders although such symptoms may not necessarily indicate a diagnosis of a mental health disorder when substances are being used. The DSM-IV-TR (the prior edition of the DSM) did not create a lot of space in a diagnosis to indicate that a symptom was the result of substance use. The DSM-V, however, uses a continuum or a spectrum model which allows the diagnosing clinician to specify if the symptoms were present during a period of substance use. In other words, we now have the ability to clarify the primary issue by the way that we diagnose. This distinction has the potential to change the entire course of recommended treatment and more importantly it may prevent the patient from carrying an untrue and stigmatized diagnosis for (potentially) the rest of their lives. For example, if a patient presents at a psychiatrist’s office complaining of active visual hallucinations, extreme paranoia, and delusional thinking the psychiatrist is likely to conclude that the patient is suffering from some sort of psychotic disorder such as Schizophrenia. If that same patient were to present at an Alcohol or Drug Facility it is likely that the clinician would presume that they had been using some sort of amphetamine and may diagnose with an amphetamine-use disorder. In all likelihood both clinicians would take the same initial steps (assess for patient safety and act accordingly) but the follow-up care would be drastically different in each scenario. The DSM-V presents the possibility that the patient is experiencing a Substance-Induced Psychotic Disorder in which case long-term medication and psychiatric treatment would not necessarily be indicated; saving a lot of heart ache, financial burden, stigma, and possible isolation. The difference between the two diagnoses, presumably, is that if the disorder is substance-induced the patient has a very good chance at making a full recovery which is what we hope for all of our patients.

The care that we have for our clients can be expressed in many ways. One of those ways is to do our best to “set the stage” for their treatment and recovery. It is our duty to carefully consider the long-term outcomes and consequences of the diagnoses, prognoses, therapeutic styles, and treatment modalities that we establish (as well as those that we do not establish). It is important to remember to use the resources you have at hand; technology, colleagues, and reference books but none of these will serve you as well as an accurate and strong clinical intuition. Our clients trust us with some of the most critical experiences of their lives, an accurate diagnosis has the potential to set a client up for success; do it well.

Guest Blog Post: The Medicine Wheel: The Way to Right Relationship

Today’s guest blog post comes from one of our frequent contributors, Rosemary Wentworth, MA, CGS, CAGS, CCDP-D, LCDC.  Rosemary has just retired as Experiential Counselor at Austin Recovery, and we will miss her!  While she may have moved on, we know her legacy will live forever in the lives of the client’s she touched through her art therapy and experiential processes that the clients loved so much.  You can see more posts from Rosemary in our Experiential blog category.

Today’s post is on the Medicine Wheel Ritual that Rosemary was doing with our clients for a period of time.  Thank you, Rosemary, for all that you offered to our agency and our clients!

The Medicine Wheel:  The Way to Right Relationship
By Rosemary Wentworth, MA, CGS, CAGS, CCDP-D, LCDC

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The Medicine Wheel is a spiritual path, a ceremony, an object, a way of life, a journey of hope and healing and a recovery circle.    At Austin Recovery we use the Medicine Wheel in ceremony with drum circle to anchor our personal sobriety, to heal our wounds and to re-connect our life in recovery and reclaim our “medicine” or personal empowerment within the context of the 12 steps.

This interactive tool of working the 12 steps through the Medicine Wheel is an experiential process of gaining immediate information about our addiction and recovery processes.

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The Medicine Wheel represents the cyclical processes of life and addictive thinking.  It is a microcosmic and holistic metaphor of a way to approach well being and balance that emphasizes interconnection and interdependence of all things. The Medicine Wheel teaches us how to regain and maintain right relationship with self, with others and with the Sacred.  It allows us to see with neutrality of the Witness the impact of our old ways of thinking and rediscover other means to address challenges presented in living.

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The 12 Step program interfaces with the directions for the Medicine Wheel on the physical, emotional, cognitive spiritual and cultural levels of our being. It  is our  journey of the Hero/Addict /Spiritual Warrior  as we gain insight and experience into  our thought patterns, feelings and core beliefs that support our decision making process.  The group setting of the Medicine Wheel helps develop emotional and social connection with others, trust, community and independence, emphasizing that this is a “we” program.

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The direction of the East deals with new beginnings, awareness, realization and surrender as described in Steps 1, 2 and 3. It is here that we tell ourselves the truth about our life.  Moving on to the South, we explore our Inner Child, accessing those parts of ourselves; Courage, Integrity and Willingness that allow us to heal.  Steps 4, 5 and 6 reflect Contemplation, Surfacing and Forgiveness. We move on to the direction of the West where we experience the releasing in a form of our vision quest, allowing new opportunities of Humility, Forgiveness and Justice to emerge, as expressed through steps 7, 8 and 9.  We come to service into community as revealed in the North.  It is here that we apply the wisdom and understanding that we have gained through our personal experiences of our true Self.  Steps 10, 11 and 12 emphasize the maintenance of the qualities of Perseverance, Spiritual Awareness and Service. We no longer need to continue the ineffective behaviours of our addictions.

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In summary, we tap into the Power of the Sacred (Medicine) and allow it to move through our living (Steps 1-3).  We access our Higher Power learning and unlearning our life’s lessons (Life Story), with the mentoring of Elders (Sponsor, Fellowship).  As Spiritual Warriors, we have the needed knowledge of our assets and liabilities (Step 4), willing to take Right Action (Steps 5- 12).

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Guest Blog Post: The Metaphor of the Garden

Happy Friday! Today’s guest blog post comes to us from one of our own, Randall Smith, who works as the Clinical Information Coordinator & CTI Coordinator at our Hicks Family Ranch facility in Buda. Randall beautifully illustrates the struggle of addiction as a garden and the individual struggling with addiction as the gardener. As Spring is winding down and Summer hits us here in Texas, Randall’s article is most appropriate. Enjoy!

Garden Blog Banner

“The Metaphor of the Garden”
By Randall Smith, LCDC, Clinical Information Coordinator & CTI Coordinator, Austin Recovery

In a garden, a specific seed is planted and expected to grow. The seed that is planted needs care as it grows. It is watered, given the correct amount of sun, and it is fertilized. The weeds that grow around it also grow there for the same reason. The difference between a weed and a plant is often the point of view of the gardener. For some blackberries are a nuisance and removed. For others, it is a sweet treat that is valued. All value is just the expectation that is placed by the person who grows the plant. Disappointment comes from unrealistic expectation, so if expecting strawberries from a dandelion there will be disappointment.

So if the gardener steps away and leaves someone else to care for the garden, with no instruction, the helper may remove many weeds but some plants that he thinks are weeds maybe special to the person who is being cared for. The owner may resent the help even if the best intentions were there. As long as the owner believes that the “weed” was beneficial they will always resists its removal and eventually will stop asking for help, because anyone who has ever asked someone else to care for their plants or for their dogs knows that no one will do the job as well as the owner does.

This example is actually much like an addict. We all have weeds, the coping skills that lead us to trouble. While some may look and see the weed, or the bug, or that there is not enough water immediately, the Gardner, the addict, may not see them. But they are the only ones who can take care of their “garden” to find out. Only the addict really knows what needs to be removed. In order to produce fruit the addict needs to learn to nurture the healthy plants that are inside and learn to pull their own weeds. There is not another gardener who can do this for them. The only way to actually help is to teach them how to tend the garden. But there is a trick that must be learned first.

So how do you help tend a garden? You tend your own garden. You learn how to stop a rabbit from eating your carrots by placing a fence, you learn that some plants repel bugs, and you learn that every plant needs a different amount of light and water. When the plants mature they are viewed by others with desire. We are all a species that learns from watching and doing. The best way to help is to learn how to work your own garden and have your struggling and loved gardener see the steps you take to make sure that you bear fruit. When you begin to work someone else’s garden what happens is your garden becomes neglected and starts to die;  while the other Gardner either leaves their garden because they are no longer responsible or frustrated by the other person taking control.

At the end of the season, when everyone realizes the importance of tending to their own garden, you being to have conversations about how big the corn grew, what you did to take care of the cutter worms, or about how often to water the tomatoes. Eventually, if one has a poor yield, the other can share the bounty. It becomes two people working individually, but for the sake of the other.

Addiction is not easy for anyone, the addict or the family of the addict. There is one major point to remember, that it doesn’t matter who chose to start using, or what happened along the way that made it worse, what does matter is that you are now all in it together. When you get sick together, you have to get well together. This will only happen by each member doing their role to be a healthy individual and along the way you will begin to see the seeds that started so small grow to be something that bears wonderful fruits.