Tag Archives: therapy

Recovery Retro: Change The Tape

Recovery Retro

Recovery Retro features posts from my archives 2016-2017, my chronicles of recovery from alcoholism, mental health issues, and substance abuse. After 35 years of chaos, my life in several VA Treatment Programs was anything but boring. Join me as I share with you my most intimate posts about spirituality, living in the now, acceptance, gratitude, mindfulness, and the lessons I learned that keep me sober to this day.

Published 01/09/2017 at 8:00 am – Day 84 of Treatment
My Ruminations Me A To Z

As I go through this morning I found myself starting to become negative about all the groups I have to attend here at the treatment facility.

And then I got real with myself.  I had to remind myself why I am here.  I had to have a little pep talk with myself about my recovery and its aims.

As a recovering alcoholic I am learning I must always be vigilant to what my tapes are playing in my head.  I am learning to recognize negative thinking patterns.  I never really paid much attention to my thoughts.

Now, however, I am in tune with my thoughts and how much they affect my emotions and behaviors throughout the day.  Some call this “mindfulness.”

When I am mindful that my thoughts may be negative, judgmental, or just plain ineffective, I am able to simply “change the tape.”  That is to say, reorient my thinking to go down positive pathways.

thoughtscharacter on justruminating men's blog

Becoming in tune with how you think from moment to moment can help you to begin to change some of the negative consequences in your life.  This happens when you say to yourself “This way of thinking is not healthy for me.”  Then you simply change the tape!

You will be amazed at how much quieter your world becomes.  How much more at peace your life becomes!  So today, rather than bitch and complain about all the groups I have to attend, while I might not embrace them and do cartwheels, I will remember they are essential to my recovery and well being!

In Recovery:  Part 5 – Jamaica Plain

From jail, to the end of my treatment in 3 different V.A. Treatment Centers, this part of My Story uncovers the journey of my recovery. I vividly, and candidly chronicled my day to day struggles with recovery, mental health, amends, and dealing with the V.A. empire on my blog from October of 2016, to the end of 2017. You can find these musings in the Archives. However, in the coming weeks, I look back at those experiences and give you a more coherent story of my life In Recovery. I look back on that year with more insight as to what was happening, and share with you the principles and actions that built the foundation for my ongoing recovery.

Before RecoveryPart 1: A ProblemPart 2: Jail TimePart 3: Reality CheckPart 4: VA Program
Two Sides of a Coin
VA Treatment Jamaica Plain

I was in the recovery program at the VA in Jamaica Plain Massachusetts from the time I got out of jail (10/7/16) until December 16th, 2016. Up until that point, the only formal treatment I ever received for my alcoholism was a stint in Rehab back in October of 2011. I was unused to going to Group Therapy.

I had tremendous difficulties acclimating to my new surroundings. This was partly because about 15 men were crammed into a double-wide trailer home. It felt like everyone was on top of one another all the time. I also found it very difficult to share in the groups.

A Blog Is Born
Smoking Area Sarrtp Trailer

So, I decided to create this blog, determined to chronicle my life before, and in recovery. I decided early on that I had to be brutally honest. As the days wore on in the program, I devoted myself intensely to sharing my thoughts and feelings. I also began writing poetry after a long absence from it, and shared my poems as well. During my time at Sarrtp, I never took one pass or met anyone outside the Veterans and Staff; I had no family in the area and my so-called ‘friends’ were nowhere to be found.

Also, shortly after creating my blog, I engaged in a tumultuous online relationship that took its toll on me emotionally for a couple of months. Romanticizing a relationship with a woman with serious CPTSD, who had been commenting on my poetry wasn’t helping. My emotions went haywire when, after about three weeks of mutual engagement, this woman suddenly freaked out and broke off contact. I was crushed. It dramatically affected my day to day functioning and I realized that I had serious emotional issues and needed help.

The Program Grind

Many of the Mental Health Records I have access to via the VA’s My HealthEVet (which would prove extremely valuable to me as I will share down the road) website, spoke not only to those difficulties, but also the difficulties I had practicing my social skills. Well, that’s because I essentially had none.

Without booze to fuel my comedy and aggressiveness, I was painfully self-conscious and shy! Now that’s not a word anyone would use to describe me before. I was considered abrasive when I talked, a loner when I didn’t share in the zeal of reliving my drinking days with the residents in the evening. Moving right along…

SARRTP (Substance Abuse Recovery and Rehabilitation Program) was pretty much Group Therapy from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.. There were several beneficial groups, but I have to admit: listening to some of my fellow Veterans drone on was taking its toll. We also had Discharge Planning sessions, bi-weekly meetings with our treatment teams, medical appointments. Looking back, I realize it was the best possible arrangement. I was ill-prepared for sobriety outside the walls of jail. I needed this kind of structure just to make it through the day.

The following is the schedule we had, as best as I can remember:

Time v & Day >MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFriday
8:15 – 8:45House MeetingHouse MeetingHouse MeetingHouse MeetingHouse Meeting
9:00-10:45Relapse PreventionMindfulnessRelapse PreventionMindfulnessRelapse Prevention
11:00 – 11:45AcceptanceLife SkillsAcceptanceLife SkillsAcceptance
11:45 – 12:45 LunchLunchLunchLunchLunch
1:00 – 2:45CBTSeeking SafetyCBT12 StepCBT
3:00 – 4:00RelationshipsWorking in RecoverySpiritualitySleep EdWrap Up

As you can see, they kept us busy. We even had two meditation sessions per weekend. Not to mention the countless homework assignments that were due on a constant basis. Yup, the VA was going to get their money’s worth out of me, and mine out of it. The programs were mostly very appealing. However, my recovery would not have suffered if I did not have to attend the Spirituality and Sleep Education Groups. I think those were really just filler for the end of the day, when they probably sensed most of us were tapped out from the heavy duty classes that came before.

A Snapshot of VA Treatment

Listed below are most of the groups I participated in almost from the very first day I was brought to Sarrtp. The descriptives are from my MyHealthEVet records.


Relapse Prevention: Veteran will identify personal relapse triggers and develop skills to prevent relapse.

Mindfulness Group: Veteran will use mindfulness skills such as: Please Skills, ABC Skills, Three Minds, Distress Tolerance, and Emotional Regulation to maintain sobriety.

Acceptance & Recovery: Veteran will explore thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that are related to internal conflicts and external stressors and their impact on substance abuse and recovery. (The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by Steven C. Hayes, Ph.d and The Language of Letting Go by Melodie Beattie- treatment protocol).

Life Skills: Anger Management. Establishing good social supports. Establishing good supportive relationships. Handling Stressors. Money Management

Seeking Safety: Veteran will be able to use specific strategies to effectively reduce or regulate uncomfortable emotions.

Relationships in Recovery: Veteran will explore thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that are related to interpersonal relationships, interpersonal difficulties, and their impact on substance abuse and recovery with the Relationships in Recovery (Green, unpublished manual) treatment protocol.

12 Step Group: This continuing group is designed to facilitate participation in Alcoholics Anonymous or other Twelve Step groups such as Narcotics Anonymous or Cocaine Anonymous in order to maintain sobriety. Group members will explore and discuss various aspects of the Twelve Step process such as Spirituality, Principles, Not Personalities, Sponsorship and Living Sober.


CBT Group: Veteran will increase his awareness of his cognitive styles and their influence on his emotions and behaviors. Veteran will learn strategies for restructuring his cognitions to reduce relapse risk and improve his mood.

Working In Recovery: This group focuses on what intrinsic benefits of returning to work are, Vocational Rehabilitation Compensated Work Therapy programs (Transitional Work Experience and Supported Employment), and the barriers faced with trying to obtain and maintain employment while in recovery.

Spirituality: Veterans will learn ways to expand their capacity to understand themselves, others and life from a spiritual perspective in order to become more equipped to prevent relapse.

Therapeutic Work

In addition to all the groups, I also had lots of health appointments, therapy sessions with VA Psychiatrists (who were assembling various diagnoses), and individual therapy with Molly, my therapist. As far as therapists go Molly is at the top. I have been in and out of therapy since my early teens. I used to joke that I was a professional patient. Molly had a way of cutting through the veil and identifying the true issues at hand, to startling effect.

Me at VA Jamaica Plain
October 2016

In 2013, when I first came to the VA for medications, I did get assigned a therapist by the name of Dr. Anna Ticlea. Up until I met Molly, Dr. Ticlea had been tops. She was the first mental health professional to diagnose me with Bipolar I Disorder…but that’s another story. However, Dr. Ticlea was primarily my psychiatrist responsible for overseeing my medications. Molly was a Board Certified Psychologist.

Well, let me just say that, by the end of our first session I was reeling with concepts of myself that I wasn’t too sure I wanted to pursue. But Molly had opened up a Pandora’s Box of sorts, and I was left thinking about them just days before my move to a new VA Treatment Program called REACH, in Brockton, Ma.

Of particular note: my self-concept was challenged, and my approach to relationships may have been grounded in a deep fear of abandonment. There will be much more about my sessions with Molly in future posts. You can count on it!

Because of the facts that I had no money, nowhere to live, and nobody I could rely upon to help me, I decided to take advantage of another VA treatment program. Called REACH, this program focuses on group therapies, but also adds a work component called CWT (Compensated Work Therapy). CWT enables Veterans in early recovery to work for minimum wage. The program is also heavily geared towards enabling Veterans to transition safely out of a domiciliary program. I was excited to have an opportunity to earn some money, for I had none for the duration of my treatment at Jamaica Plain.

However, I almost didn’t get to go there because of another Veteran named Bill. I’m not going to get into all the details here, the posts about that whole incident can be found in my Flipbook below. Suffice it to say, I dodged a bullet that never should have been shot at me in the first place. The incident drew many of my fellow Veterans away from me, unfairly I might add, and served to isolate me further from them.

Read About My Recovery As I Lived It

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Onwards and Upwards

I was ready to move beyond VA treatment at the Jamaica Plain campus. The close quarters, the rigorous schedule, and the treatment by some of my fellow Veterans was wearing me thin. The two months at Sarrtp gave me a great foundation for my recovery.

Time For Brockton Reach Program!

I had endured some gut-wrenching sessions in group therapy, as well as with my private sessions with Molly. What I wasn’t prepared for, was that my emotions would continue to wreak havoc on me in the coming months at REACH, the VA treatment program in Brockton Ma: the city where I lived with my psychotic ex.

Part 6: Brockton Reach

Recovery Retro: Self Condemnation

Recovery Retro

Recovery Retro features posts from my archives 2016-2017, my chronicles of recovery from alcoholism, mental health issues, and substance abuse. After 35 years of chaos, my life in several VA Treatment Programs was anything but boring. Join me as I share with you my most intimate posts about spirituality, living in the now, acceptance, gratitude, mindfulness, and the lessons I learned that keep me sober to this day.

Published 10/31/2016 at 5:00 am – Day 14 of Treatment
Recovery Retro Self Condemnation

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, I love Notes To Myself, By Hugh Prather, it was one of the first books I read about self introspection.

Somehow over the years the lessons he shares in his book went by the wayside.  The book helped me to come into focus with the messages. They keenly pinpoint the flaws within which the mind can bring us discord both in our heads, and in our relationships with those around us.

It is a book you can pick up and read any passage at any time, as his thoughts are written not in a linear way, but sort of happenstance.  Bring this book into your life!

One of my favorite quotes in the book is:

“The criticism that hurts the most is the one that echoes my own self-condemnation.”

How Often Do We Fixate On Our Mistakes?

How often do we carry guilt, shame, anger, disappointment over something we have said or done?  I am learning just how much guilt I have been carrying over the years. How it has crippled my sense of well-being. And certainly how it has kept me living in my head.

I hold the belief that many of us have a very difficult time letting go, moving forward, forgiving ourselves.  What Prather is saying is that we drift so far away from just being, that to live in one’s head is not honoring the peace we all richly deserve.  If we can just let ourselves off the hook and live today in the knowing that we are perfect. That we are the greatest creation and we didn’t have to do anything at all, then I truly believe we set ourselves back on this path.

Along the way, the “yes” of our birth-right was clouded by who we thought we were supposed to be based on the experiences without ourselves that turned our existence into “no.”  That is to say, we lost the wonder of ourselves and the love of just being the miracle we are.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Today I will meditate on this and probably experience painful memories. However, in meditation I am learning how to connect with my soul rather than my mind.  I can’t remember who exactly said “The mind is a powerful wish-fulfilling machine.” It is a powerful statement that illustrates this danger of self within the mind.

Along these lines is the concept of “self-fulfilling prophecy.”  Self-fulfilling prophecy is defined as “a false definition of the situation evoking a new behaviour which makes the original false conception come ‘true’.”

My Recovery:  53 Months Clean

When I started this blog in October of 2016, after a 5 month stay in jail, I had no inkling of where my sobriety would take me. Fast forward to My Recovery: 53 months, still clean and sober! See one of my earliest posts about self-condemnation, just 15 days into my treatment at the VA.

My Recovery 53 Months Clean

From October of 2016, until November of 2017, I learned about recovery through multiple VA treatment programs for Veterans. The principles I learned helped keep me strong, when I finally went back on my own. I even developed an acronym for the 5 pillars of my recovery.

The 5 Pillars of My Recovery

The acronym, S.N.A.G.M., stands for SPIRITUALITY, living in the NOW, ACCEPTANCE, GRATITUDE, and MINDFULNESS. I actually dedicated a blog page about S.N.A.G.M. here!

These 5 principles, along with the lessons I learned in therapy, courses like Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy, have served me well in my recovery journey; I have not relapsed once since I was basically forced into sobriety by jail, on May 12, 2016.

Recovery Retro: Attitude of Gratitude

Recovery Retro

Recovery Retro features posts from my archives 2016-2017, my chronicles of recovery from alcoholism, mental health issues, and substance abuse. After 35 years of chaos, my life in several VA Treatment Programs was anything but boring. Join me as I share with you my most intimate posts about spirituality, living in the now, acceptance, gratitude, mindfulness, and the lessons I learned that keep me sober to this day.

recovery retro attitude of gratitude
Today I Will Be Grateful
Published 2016/10/26 at 6:27 am – Day 9 of Treatment

Today I will embrace an attitude of gratitude.  I will be thankful for the food on my plate.  I will be grateful for you who enter my life today.

I think too often we let life carry us on the breeze, and we often don’t “stop to smell the roses.”  Well, at least that happens to me at times.  Today, I will be grateful for the day, grateful for another day of sobriety.

I will be open to what others have to say.  I will be a better listener than I was yesterday.  I find that when I pause the urge to talk, my interactions are so much more rich.  I have to stop “waiting for my turn to talk.”  That’s a symptom of my disease.  There is room for more opinions than just my own today.

I will breath in the October air and relish the Fall of Earth.  It’s sights, sounds, scents.  I will live in the moment and just be today.  I will direct my intention towards gratitude, and pay attention to the abundance I possess.

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