FROM THE INSIDE OUT OF SUBSTANCE USE DISORDER – WENDY BLANCHARD, M.S., CHHC, CPS

When you live in wellness in recovery from Substance Use Disorder and co-occurring disorders (and recovery is a lifelong process) and see the light on the other side of Substance Use Disorder (SUD)/addiction, you understand and empathize with others struggling with this disease as you begin to see yourself in their every word, their every thought, their every action, when you were in active addiction. This is me today on the other side of SUD working as a Holistic Health Counselor and Mental Health and Wellness Literacy Professional, Recovery Specialist, advocate, keynote speaker, and author, serving others living with SUD and mental illness. I am nearly 8 years thriving in my wellness based recovery that I have designed, and re-designed, as I continue to evolve and observe daily, what it is that I need to continue to thrive in wellness. As I change and evolve, so does my wellness “program.”
As I observe others who are living with a misaligned compass…where a distorted perception guides them, and is their only “reality,” I understand and empathize with their unwell mind, body, and soul. It brings back memories of a past set in paranoia and delusions induced by the seduction of a drug which nearly took my own life in early 2013. By the grace of God, my life was saved.
When you know the solution and the path that leads to wellness, serenity, sanity, and self-love and respect, you want to share it with all those living with SUD to hear. I remind myself to exercise patience, love, empathy and acceptance for where each precious soul is presently, hold their hand, reassure them, pray with them, and for them. When someone is unwell, we don’t turn our backs on them; we offer them love and support, and help them to find healing remedies and solutions, whatever that looks like for them. When the mind of one living with SUD has been reduced to that of a child, due to ongoing drug abuse, and/or mental illness, many without life skills to assist them in navigating, through no fault of their own, one who has experienced trauma and continues to experience a trauma response, one who “needs” to be the center of attention where they are looking for love and approval in the only way they know how, one who doesn’t understand the meaning of delayed gratification, or the precious meaning of life, one who is unable to feel anything or hear anything unless it feels good for them, we must all pitch in to teach and model new, healthy behaviors, through compassion and patience, and provide them with an opportunity to practice deep, ongoing self discovery work where we strive to reset the mindset and where we promote a new, healthy lifestyle, as they lead the way. 
We must give them permission to feel, and offer resources for healing. We must help to validate their feelings and emotions by acknowledging, by listening without judgement, and by offering them a safe space to experience and flush through their emotions at their own pace, in a healthy and productive manner that will provide wellness. “We all have mental health,” and it lies on a continuum. We must provide opportunities that resonate with the patient/client that will move them back to wellness on the continuum. It will look different for everyone. Healing is personal. Inherently, we all know what we need to heal.
We must continually reassure them that they are safe, and encourage them to find the gift in every feeling and emotion in every situation where we are given an opportunity to learn, and to evolve…and, to remind them over and over that they have the power to heal and grow when they remain open minded, teachable, and positive, including the most important part of healing which is to practice ongoing self care, and self forgiveness.
As we learn new healthy habits, we begin to practice these habits and create a new healthy lifestyle. “When we know better, we do better.”
We must encourage patients/clients to take small risks…baby steps, in their recovery rather than living in isolation and in fear from feeling our emotions. Feeling promotes healing. We must remind them, ongoing, that taking risks and stepping outside of our comfort zone promotes growth and wellness on a personal and deeper level. One that resonates solely with oneself. We must find ways to allow them to see the spectacular human being that they already are, inherently, and empower them to accept and embrace change in order to further evolve. We must guide them in making good decisions for themselves and in always doing the right thing that will serve their own best interest. We must guide them with empathy, strength, faith, hope, and love so that they may slowly find their own path and learn to navigate successfully in their lives. We must be sure to include them in every single step, making them proactive on their journey.
Lead by example. Help them to jump start a new beginning, and then cheer them on from the sidelines. I’ve always said from the time I began my own recovery nearly eight years ago, “It takes a village to empower, to educate, and to reset one’s mind to that of choosing wellness…a “strength based approach…a public health approach” where we all understand that Substance Use Disorder is a mental illness (as documented in the DSM-5). This disease is diagnosable, treatable and manageable where we can, and do live in wellness, and wellness is where we stand in our power.
And, like any other disease, there will be recurring symptoms…notice the symptoms WITHOUT JUDGMENT and encourage non-judgement of oneself. As we develop and sharpen our wellness mindset, our wellness tools, and our understanding of SUD, we sharpen our self awareness and self management skills, choosing the best, next healthy action for ourselves in the present moment, including our greatest tool which is self care. Self care includes any healthy practice that provides a sense of well being and overall wellness, including asking for support from a mental health professional, taking prescribed medication, exercise, choosing healthy foods, engaging in loving, healthy relationships, good sleep hygiene, saying, “no,” when it does not serve our health, a spiritual practice that resonates with one individually, and staying present in a positive wellness mindset where we remind ourselves that in every moment, we are doing the very best that we can. These healthy practices provide us with peace, joy, eagerness to thrive, and the ability to live in wellness.When you see one suffering with signs and symptoms of Substance Use Disorder, please remember that they can recover, and that each person has specific needs that will provide wellness in time…in their own time. Each gorgeous soul will heal in their own individual way that will look like no other.

Listen, don’t preach. Love, don’t smother. Guide, don’t overwhelm. Meet them where they are. Allow them the dignity and respect of being proactive in their recovery. If they are unable to participate early on, but they are aware that they need help, and they ask for help, find resources where they can heal naturally and organically to give the body and the mind a chance to truly heal on a cellular level, rather than finding resources that continue to keep them hostages to drugs by giving them drugs to manage their SUD. There may be a true medical need initially for medication assisted detox, but after the patient is stabilized, let’s gradually push out the drugs and begin to introduce natural and organic solutions that are sustainable, and can offer a successful lifelong recovery on a cellular level.
Having said that, we must also be mindful that in many cases we need to find a balance of medication assisted treatment in conjunction with natural and organic solutions. A recovery wellness plan needs to be based on a bio-individual status…one patient at a time, and we must honor and include the patient in all of the decisions made in their own recovery. This is THEIR recovery. We need only to engage the patient in asking them what they feel they need, and to guide them to whatever that is, keeping in mind that if one thing doesn’t work, we can always re-design their individual program at any time.

For a guided self plan that I have found helpful in my own recovery, please see W.R.A.P. Wellness Recovery Action Plan (Mary Ellen Copeland http://mentalhealthrecovery.com/wrap-is/).

By being mindful of the mindset and needs of this precious soul living with SUD, we can help them to retrain their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors thus leading to healthy cells, leading to a healthy immune system, leading to a healthy body, mind and soul…leading to WELLNESS. The healthy food that we feed our bodies, the positive thoughts that we feed our mind, and the love and compassion which feeds our soul, has a direct impact on our overall health.

And…

I always share that my greatest self care tool in recovery is my spiritual practice which is what promotes my strong foundation of my recovery. Without my prayer and meditation practice, I would not have come thus far where I thrive in wellness, and where I am honored to be able to serve others in the capacity of leading by example to find their own wellness path in recovery.

Self care is the greatest tool in recovery.

“Self care is the actions that we take to achieve wellness, and wellness is where we stand in our power.”

Wishing you harmonious health 4 life!
Love and blessings,
Wendy
(original publication on www.recoveryconnection.com on January 25, 2016.)