Recovery is Always Possible—Even During a Pandemic

Harmony alumna Shayla E. was discharged after her successful treatment in March. It was a very challenging moment in her life. Recovery from addiction is hard enough in normal times, but Shayla had to stay the course in the middle of an escalating pandemic.
“Getting sober during COVID-19 definitely has its challenges,” she says. During her residential treatment at Harmony, Shayla was sheltered from the constant stream of news about the pandemic but then she found herself in a situation where “everybody was terrified of each other.”
“It was nerve-racking, in-person meetings were not necessarily taking place,” she remembers. “I was nervous about attending my IOP (intensive outpatient program) without actually meeting other people or seeing my therapist in person.”
Intensive outpatient treatment is certainly a different experience on Zoom, but Shayla was able to form great relationships with members of her group and with her therapist.
Following treatment, Shayla chose a sober-living arrangement—the “best decision I could have made, especially during COVID,” she says. Shayla had previously relapsed because she isolated herself too much after treatment but she learned from that experience. This time, she was not going it alone.
“I did not have the opportunity to isolate in that home. I was always around a bunch of girls, and we were all stuck together, always finding creative ways to pass the time.” She had clear goals and requirements—such as how many meetings to attend—and it really helped her to stay sober and accountable.
This time her recovery was all about community and building strong relationships to support her. She looked for AA meetings online and attended daily or weekly. She focused on being open and honest, talking with people—she even got her sponsor via Zoom.
The coronavirus precautions are challenging, she says, especially if you’re introverted, but it’s doable. “Just put yourself out there. Say ‘I’m new, I’m a bit afraid, this is where I’m at, and I need help.’ People will definitely reach out. I was surprised to see how many people wanted to sponsor. The amount of support is really remarkable.”
“Good communication so important,” says Shayla. “I was able to help a lot of people as well.” She came well prepared with recovery tools she acquired at Harmony.  “I definitely rely a lot on my grounding tools, my breathing exercises. I make sure I have a solid morning routine—getting up on time, making my bed, meditation, prayer, and yoga, if I have enough time. Getting involved in AA meetings definitely has been important to me, that’s how I keep building my community.”
She stays in touch with the Harmony community and journals a lot. “It’s all about staying open-minded, and not being judgmental—everybody’s different.” At the same time, don’t be too serious, have some fun, and be yourself.
Shayla has a message for addicted people who think they can’t do it, who believe that recovery is too hard for them. “I know it’s a horrible pandemic but it gave me the time, and the opportunity to slow down, to actually focus on myself and work a program. It’s definitely worth considering going into treatment at Harmony Foundation—that place saved me, I don’t think I could have done it without their support.”
Harmony continues to serve people suffering from a substance use disorder during the pandemic and has implemented a number of precautionary measures to ensure staff and client safety. Delaying addiction treatment can be even more dangerous than COVID-19.
Shayla knows recovery is not easy. “Getting sober is hard but if you know in your heart that you want recovery and you feel now is the time, do it! Reach out to anyone you know, strangers, Harmony alumni, we are here for you,” she says.
“It’s possible, it’s doable, and it’s a lot better on the other side.”

September is National Recovery Month

Each year, Recovery Month celebrates the achievements of people in recovery from addiction. It’s an opportunity to promote new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices, the emergence of a strong and proud recovery community, and the dedication of service providers and community members across the nation who make recovery in all its forms possible.
Recovery Month is also an important reminder that the addiction crisis is far from over. Tens of thousands of people die from the disease of addiction each year. Drug overdose deaths increased again in 2019 in the United States, according to new preliminary data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July. The CDC predicts that the final count for 2019 will be close to a record 72,000 overdose deaths, while 2020 is widely expected to exceed even that number because of the impact of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.
The theme for this year’s Recovery Month is “Join the Voices for Recovery: Celebrating Connections.” Addiction is frequently driven by intense stress, trauma, extended periods of anxiety, prolonged grief, depression, and isolation.
Connections are crucial for a sustained recovery and COVID-19 has seriously disrupted traditional ways of connecting in recovery. With physical distancing measures and other restrictions in place across the US, meetings and counseling sessions for those who struggle with addiction had to be moved online in many cases. But that situation has also presented new opportunities.
“With the help of modern technology, we have the chance to be more connected than ever before,” says Michael Arnold is the director of alumni and recovery support services at Harmony Foundation. “The time COVID-19 is giving us at home is actually the greatest gift that our recovery can receive. If you are concerned about being isolated at home, pick up the phone, tablet, or use your computer to reach out to someone.”
Michael also found another engaging way to help people in recovery snap out of any dark moods they may be experiencing. In May, she started a podcast called “Monday State of Mind” to give the recovery community a positive start into the workweek. “I know the good that happens when I choose to be consciously aware of my state of mind,” she says. An alumna of Harmony herself, Michael continues to use the tools that were given to her while she was there as a patient.
The federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is also utilizing the internet, offering a number of webinars during Recovery Month that cover medication-assisted treatment, employment support, communities supporting recovery, and the importance of integrating recovery support services.
Millions of lives in America have been transformed through recovery. Unfortunately, these successes in the battle against addiction frequently go unnoticed. Recovery Month gives everybody a chance to celebrate these accomplishments.
Harmony Foundation continues to serve clients during the COVID-19 outbreak and is taking new precautions to ensure staff and client safety. These include strict hand-washing protocols, heightened and ongoing disinfection of all areas at facilities, as well as updated admission assessments to consider previous travel, potential exposure, and health status. All new admissions will have additional medical screening upon campus arrival.

School Mental Health Providers: Another Resource for Addiction Counselors and Others

*This presentation is no longer eligible for the 1 CE credit*

 

School Mental Health services have been in the spotlight lately on a national level, yet if you are not a school based provider it can be unclear as to what the term means. While there are some similarities, there are significant differences between school based and clinical or community based mental health services. Continue reading “School Mental Health Providers: Another Resource for Addiction Counselors and Others”

Harmony’s Annual Scholarship Event Virtual This Year

Harmony’s annual sponsorship gala will have to be different in 2020. This year’s event on September 18 had to move online because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But just like in years before, Harmony’s first virtual fundraiser “Step By Step” will aim to change the lives of those who need a little extra support for their recovery.
The one-hour event will include a silent auction and alumni testimonials. Proceeds from the event will financially help those with the desire, but without the means, to receive the addiction treatment they need. Harmony alumnus Josiah B. was a previous recipient of financial assistance. He did everything he could to change his life and go into recovery but he just didn’t have the right insurance.
When his case manager had to tell Josiah that his insurance would only cover one week of treatment unless he needed “life-supporting care,” he struggled to just take in that information, “feeling really hopeless and very triggered.”
Josiah thought he had to leave treatment and go home. “I felt hopeless and wanted to give up at that point,” he remembers. Harmony’s financial assistance program changed all that. “Being able to get those last three weeks was so crucial to my recovery. Having that foundation is so crucial. Every day counts.”
Being able to finish his treatment at Harmony because of the financial help, and getting the building blocks for the foundation of his recovery made all the difference for Josiah.
He was excited when he learned about the funding, but he also thought “this is why you’re here, Josiah, why you’re reconnecting with your Higher Power. Why you need to be here, to be able to trust that the process works, and put your faith in that.”
“I had a lot of peace the day before I finally decided to apply for the scholarship,” Josiah remembers. “It’s okay,” he told himself. “You’re in good hands. There are people supporting you that you don’t even know. The people at Harmony are supporting you; your Higher Power is supporting you. Everything kinda fell into place.”
Should you consider donating Josiah would say, “please do because there are so many people who are in the position that I was in and even worse. Donations will get people the help they need to finish their time in treatment. That’s huge. Every day I was at Harmony was monumental and I wouldn’t trade a single day for anything else.”
If you would like to help out and be a sponsor at our Step-by-Step fundraiser, contact Judy Keller at Harmony, please. : jkeller@harmonyfoundationinc.com

Engaging the Warrior: Tools for the Non-Veteran Serving the Veteran

*This presentation is no longer eligible for the 1 CE credit*

Currently there are approximately 18.5 million military veterans in the United States. Only  9 million seek services through Veteran Health Administration.  Substance use disorders (SUDs) are a significant problem among military veterans and are associated with numerous harmful effects including physical and mental health. Continue reading “Engaging the Warrior: Tools for the Non-Veteran Serving the Veteran”

States Trim Mental Health Programs Amid Global Health Crisis

It’s been a tough few months for many Americans. A once in a century pandemic has so far killed more than 140,000 people in the United States, causing untold grief and distress while sending the economy into a tailspin.
As if painful isolation from friends and family and anxiety over catching a deadly virus wasn’t bad enough, May and June saw the addition of social unrest and protests over widespread racism. This kind of prolonged, relentless stress cannot remain without consequences.
Mental health and addiction professionals across the United States are now warning that the need for behavioral health services is growing. But while the need for services is growing, many states are faced with budgetary shortfalls. “Colorado is cutting spending on a number of mental health and substance use treatment programs,” Markian Hawryluk reported for Kaiser Health News and The Denver Post in July.
“In Colorado, lawmakers had to fill a $3.3 billion hole in the budget for fiscal year 2020, which started July 1. That included cuts to a handful of mental health programs, with small overall savings but potentially significant impact on those who relied on them.”
Tragically, state legislatures have been forced to consider healthcare cuts and delay new health programs even in the midst of a healthcare crisis. But many lawmakers and health experts are concerned the cuts needed now to balance budgets could make the situation far worse down the line.
“Healthcare cuts tend to be on the table, and of course, it’s counterproductive,” Edwin Park, a health policy professor at Georgetown University told Colorado Public Radio. “When there’s a recession, people lose their jobs and health insurance the very moment when people need those health programs the most.” Some of those cuts were offset by $15.2 million in federal CARES Act funding allocated to behavioral healthcare programs. Some programs, however, were completely defunded.
Doyle Forrestal, CEO of the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council, worries that resources won’t be there for an emerging wave of mental health and substance use disorders unleashed by the pandemic. “People who are isolated at home are drinking a lot more, maybe having other problems — isolation, economic despair,” she told Kaiser Health News. “There’s going to be a whole new influx once all of this takes hold.”
Isolation and despair are indeed widely acknowledged drivers of addiction and mood disorders. At the same time, physical distancing measures implemented to contain the COVID-19 outbreak have made it more difficult to provide treatment. A lot of therapeutic face-to-face engagement cannot simply be replaced with an online platform. Harmony continues to serve people suffering from a substance use disorder and has implemented a number of precautionary measures to ensure staff and client safety. Delaying addiction treatment—even during a pandemic—is not a good idea.
Harmony has provided cutting-edge treatment at its Estes Park center in Colorado for half a century. Our modern, evidence-based approach to addiction treatment acknowledges the important role mental health conditions play as drivers of substance use disorders. People may misuse drugs and alcohol because of mental health issues like trauma, depression, and anxiety—all currently intensified by the pandemic.
If co-occurring conditions aren’t addressed, clients are more likely to relapse because they may be tempted to use substances to self-medicate those issues. All staff at Harmony have been trained in trauma-informed care. Modern addiction treatment requires a comprehensive, holistic approach that addresses all mental health issues relevant to the substance misuse and provides a solid foundation for sustained recovery from addiction.

How to Avoid the Monday Blues with Michael Arnold’s New Podcast

Monday morning is a stressful time for many people. Anxiety about work or a depressed mood are not beneficial for anybody but they can be dangerous relapse triggers for people in recovery from addiction.

One way to deal with the Monday blues is to confront it head-on and make a virtue of it. Michael Arnold is the director of alumni and recovery support services at Harmony Foundation. She has found an engaging way to help people in recovery snap out of any dark moods they may be experiencing.

In May, Michael started a podcast called “Monday State of Mind” to give the recovery community a positive start into the workweek. Her sheer boundless enthusiasm alone will cheer up your Monday—or any other day for that matter. “I know the good that happens when I choose to be consciously aware of my state of mind,” explained the woman known as the “Hurricane of Happiness” in episode one. An alumna of Harmony herself, Michael continues to use the tools that were given to her while she was there as a client.

The fuel behind “Monday State of Mind” is her intense desire to “recover out loud” and in the process help others in the same situation. “ At Harmony, I get to help alumni implement the foundation they learned into their daily lives and help show them how to continue to take their power back by creating and living lives that are filled with continuous growth, meaningful connection, service, gratitude, and so much more.”

“Monday State of Mind” means to tackle thought-provoking questions that relate to recovery and how to apply the answers into the daily life of listeners. Michael aims to challenge listeners to ask themselves whether their state of mind is helping them catapult their week forward, or whether it is harming their week.

And when things don’t go your way, you just have to deal with it—appropriately. The week leading up to episode nine reminded Michael to keep it authentic when she realized that her request for listener questions had resulted in zero replies. In typical Michael Arnold fashion, she turned that Monday disappointment around and made it the topic of the episode that followed four episodes about humility after all.

At first, she got anxious and started blaming herself for this “failure.” Destructive, self-defeating thoughts showed up: “Why are you even doing this podcast?” and “No one is listening!” Then her ego chimed in: “Michael, you can’t admit that no one submitted questions. Just make some up!” But she felt fairly uneasy about making things up—she didn’t want to be a fraud. Instead, Michael called a friend who put her straight: “Michael, this is your opportunity to really show what you have been talking about. Your topics are happening to you. You have a great opportunity to be humble to the world and talk about it.”

Michael realized that “in order to change your state of mind you have to make tough decisions to grow. You have to be prepared to be a little uncomfortable.” She understood that she can’t expect listeners to be transparent, truthful, and vulnerable if she is not prepared to be so herself. After all, nobody is perfect and you can’t beat the Monday blues by faking it.

_____________________

Catch the podcast here: https://harmonyfoundationinc.com/monday-state-of-mind/
Michael Arnold is the co-author of
Drowning in Addiction: A Personal Guide to Recovery

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Overview of Crisis Services, Levels of Care, and M-1/EC Holds

*This presentation is no longer eligible for the 1 CE credit*

Crisis services are a continuum of services that are provided to individuals experiencing a psychiatric emergency. The primary goal of these services is to stabilize and improve psychological symptoms of distress and to engage individuals in an appropriate treatment service to address the problem that led to the crisis. Core crisis services include: 23-hour crisis stabilization/observation beds, short term crisis residential services and crisis stabilization, mobile crisis services, 24/7 crisis hotlines, warm lines, psychiatric advance directive statements, and peer crisis services. This presentation will take a brief look and overview of our crisis services, levels of care, and M-1/EC holds. Continue reading “Overview of Crisis Services, Levels of Care, and M-1/EC Holds”

Colorado’s Meth Problem

“Drug bust nets $762,000 in meth, heroin and more near Colorado Springs,” reported The Gazette in April. Unfortunately, it was not an unusual headline for the region.

In February, KMGH in Denver reported on the indictments of 30 people, “accused of being members of a Denver-based drug trafficking group with suspected ties to a Mexican cartel. According to the report, “federal agents seized a slew of drugs in the case, including about 400 pounds of methamphetamine and 15,000 fentanyl pills—a powerful synthetic opioid—that were disguised as prescription oxycodone, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver.”

Like several other states in the western United States, Colorado has an escalating meth problem. “The methamphetamine problem has come back with a vengeance,” Jason Dunn, Colorado’s US Attorney told Colorado Public Radio (CPR) last year. “Meth hasn’t grabbed headlines like opioids have, but it has flooded cities throughout the Southwest over the last five years. Law enforcement now says the region is in the midst of a meth crisis.”

The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), a subdivision of the US Department of Justice, issued a 40-page report in December 2019 on the resurgence of methamphetamine which stated that “law enforcement and public health resources around the country, including forensic laboratories, have reported marked increases in the use, abuse, and availability of methamphetamine.” The report suggested that “the resurgence of methamphetamine may also suggest a trending away from opioid abuse.”

The resurgence of methamphetamine in recent years can indeed be seen as a consequence of the intense efforts by law enforcement and public health officials to contain the opioid epidemic, primarily by restricting access to opioid pain relievers. It is not uncommon, however, for people in active addiction deprived of access to certain substances to simply switch to a different one if the underlying reasons for the substance use disorder are not addressed in the form of comprehensive addiction treatment.

Despite the return of methamphetamine misuse, drug-overdose deaths were actually slightly down across the nation for the first time in 20 years, according to a new analysis by the Rockefeller Institute of Government. But then the COVID-19 pandemic struck and since the implementation of coronavirus-related stay-at-home orders, county health offices are reporting more overdose deaths and more calls for opioid-overdose antidotes. Stress and isolation are powerful drivers of addictive behaviors.

In Colorado, the meth resurgence has had another troubling effect. According to CPR, “Colorado law enforcement authorities shot someone, on average, once a week for the past six years,” giving Colorado the 5th highest rate for fatal law enforcement shootings in the United States. “Most of those shot were white, male, high on drugs—often methamphetamine—or alcohol and carrying a weapon.” Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that can make users feel invincible and paranoid at the same time—a dangerous combination.

It is misguided to think of the ongoing addiction crisis in America primarily as an “opioid” epidemic simply caused by irresponsible over-prescription of opioid pain relievers. Keeping the focus on one substance and treating it as the root of the problem is unlikely to end this crisis. The next substance is always on the horizon.

The complex disease of addiction requires comprehensive treatment and a life-changing commitment to recovery. Depriving people in active addiction of access to one addictive substance with a concerted law-enforcement effort has failed repeatedly in the past. In the case of the meth resurgence, most of the media coverage is focused on drug seizures and interdiction measures at this point. Rarely do you come across articles or blog posts that describe people addicted to methamphetamine as having an illness that deserves treatment and compassion. If we want to create effective change at both the human and community level then we must change the way we approach how we look at the disease.

Dangerous New Synthetic Opioid Found in Counterfeit Painkillers

A new, dangerous designer drug has reached the United States—in the middle of a deadly viral pandemic. Isotonitazene is a synthetic opioid so novel that it has not even been banned by the authorities yet.

Barry Logan is a leading authority on forensic toxicology and chief scientist at forensic firm NMS labs. He told Vice in March that his colleagues have identified isotonitazene in samples from more than 200 deceased drug users in the midwest and northeast since August last year. “Isotonitazene is the most persistent and prevalent new opioid in the US,” said Logan.

According to USA Today, isotonitazene has been detected in the blood of people who died of overdoses in Illinois and Indiana, where it was mixed with cocaine. It was also reportedly found in Canada last year.

The new drug—deemed as potent as fentanyl—comes in a white or off-white powder form or is pressed into counterfeit opioid pills. Designer drugs always tend to be one step ahead of the law and this new synthetic is no exception. It is currently not on the US Drug Enforcement Agency’s controlled substances list simply because there hasn’t been enough time to classify it.

Bryce Pardo, an associate policy researcher at the Rand Corporation, told Vice that drug laws simply cannot cope with the seemingly endless drugs being produced by underground chemists in China. “Our drug control laws are old, and the ease of chemical innovation, cheap shipping, and the ubiquity of the internet have all stretched the applicability of these laws.”

Isotonitazene seems to have arrived in the United States following an aggressive global crackdown on illicitly made fentanyl. It represents a typical pattern in the seemingly endless “War on Drugs”: When governments focus their supply interdiction efforts on one substance, the market will start delivering alternatives.

The resurgence of methamphetamine in recent years is a good example of that pattern. While opioid misuse may have peaked nationwide, people with addiction have been switching to other substances. “Nationally, since late last year, meth has turned up in more deaths than opioid painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone. In 14 of the 35 states that report overdose deaths to the federal government on a monthly basis, meth is also involved in more deaths than fentanyl, by far the most potent opioid,” The New York Times reported last year. “Provisional data from the CDC shows there were about 13,000 deaths involving meth nationwide in 2018, more than twice as many as in 2015.” Now, we’re witnessing the emergence of a new synthetic opioid as well.

A focus on disrupting the supply of addictive drugs has never worked because it doesn’t address the reason for the demand. The actual misuse of drugs and alcohol is only one aspect of a substance use disorder and not necessarily the most important one. That is why Prohibition, the “War on Drugs,” and the “Just Say No” campaign all failed to achieve their objective.

Addictions are frequently driven by underlying mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and trauma. If these issues are not addressed within a comprehensive treatment approach, sustained recovery is unlikely to happen.

Addiction cannot be reduced to substance use, it is not simply chemically caused by the presence of drugs and alcohol in the human body. Addiction is a complex biopsychosocial and spiritual disorder with many interlocking conditions and mechanisms. “By itself, nothing is addictive,” wrote Maia Szalavitz provocatively in her influential 2016 book Unbroken Brain. “Drugs can only be addictive in the context of set, setting, dose, dosing pattern, and numerous other personal, biological, and cultural variables. Addiction isn’t just taking drugs. It is a pattern of learned behavior.”

Addiction affects the body, mind, and spirit. It is a disease requiring comprehensive treatment in an integrated care environment. Recovery from addiction is also a personal quest for meaning and connection with other people, our human nature, and the entire universe.