News

Reducing Ego and Self-Centeredness in Recovery

A powerful sense of ego can be one of the worst obstacles on your recovery journey. It can make you see things differently and damage your sense of reality.

“Recovery isn’t about stopping drinking (or stopping whatever). It’s about investigating the ways of the ego and trying to change on the basis of that knowledge,” wrote Alan Budge in his 2013 book For God’s Sake. “It’s about surrender. For me, the whole spiritual deal is based on the idea that I’m not in charge, there is something bigger: God, the universe, whatever. The important thing is not to think or act as though I’m the final authority, that my best interests are the highest good.” Continue reading “Reducing Ego and Self-Centeredness in Recovery”

The Triple Pandemic: How NAATP is Helping Providers Fight Racism, COVID-19, and Addiction

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

This presentation addresses the challenges of providing addiction healthcare during a ‘triple pandemic’ and identifies the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP’s) current initiatives toward positive systemic change.  Addiction has been considered to be a public health crisis for many years and continues to worsen.  Continue reading “The Triple Pandemic: How NAATP is Helping Providers Fight Racism, COVID-19, and Addiction”

The Recovery of Craig K.

“First responders are usually the first on the scene to face challenging, dangerous, and draining situations,” explains a Supplemental Research Bulletin by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “They are also the first to reach out to disaster survivors and provide emotional and physical support to them. These duties, although essential to the entire community, are strenuous to first responders and with time put them at an increased risk of trauma.”
According to the SAMHSA Bulletin, “It is estimated that 30 percent of first responders develop behavioral health conditions including, but not limited to, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as compared with 20 percent in the general population (Abbot et al., 2015). In a study about suicidality, firefighters were reported to have higher attempt and ideation rates than the general population (Stanley et al., 2016). In law enforcement, the estimates suggest between 125 and 300 police officers commit suicide every year (Badge of Life, 2016).”
Experiencing severe trauma is strongly correlated with substance use disorder (SUD). In a study investigating alcohol use in police officers following Hurricane Katrina, there was a significant association between involvement in the hurricane relief efforts and hazardous alcohol drinking (Heavey et al., 2015). In another study, the average number of alcoholic drinks after Hurricane Katrina increased from 2 to 7 drinks per day (McCanlies et al., 2014).
Many traumatized first responders attempt to alleviate their mental health symptoms with drugs and alcohol. Former police officer Craig K. was one of them. As a young man, the Harmony alumnus entered a work environment where you “push horrible calls to the back of the head,” downplay the horror, and move on. The traditional macho culture prevalent among first responders taught him how to “party like a cop” to release the stress.
When traumatic episodes start to show an impact you still don’t think you have a problem: “They tell you about the stress but they don’t build in a mechanism to deal with it.” One time, Craig was called to the scene of a helicopter crash. The smell of the jet fumes connected with the carnage he was forced to witness is etched into his memory. Craig refers to these traumatic events in his career as demons.
One of his main demons is the Columbine high school shooting. “To this day I can’t hear fire alarms,” he says. “I freak out when I hear fire alarms.” More than twenty years later, Craig is still angry with the teenage perpetrators.
In the aftermath of Columbine, his drinking “took another level” and he could not stop watching the news about the shooting on TV. Like many of his colleagues he was traumatized and felt the police were unjustly blamed for not doing enough to stop the massacre. Craig took it personally.
Family hardships followed: his son was born without an immune system and “everything was thrown out of kilter,” including his marriage. All the while his alcohol use disorder (AUD) became steadily worse. “We started going to therapy” but talking about the health problems of my son was just “an easy way to avoid talking about my problems,” Craig remembers. The inevitable negative consequences started to pile up, he left the police force and got a divorce.
The AUD kept destroying his life, “everything after 2011 is really cloudy.” At the end of last year, Craig finally realized that something was wrong. On New Year’s Eve, he was hospitalized for four days. “I still didn’t realize why I was shaking so much.” After his discharge, he started drinking again and by February he was back in the hospital. On that occasion, “the ER doctor tells me ‘if you keep this up, you’re going to die in three months.’”
By this time, however, Craig was firmly in the grip of active addiction, so he kept on drinking. After getting fired from his job, he saw his pastor who told him about Harmony Foundation. Craig was finally ready to change.
Traumatic life experiences are extremely common among patients with substance use disorder. Because of this strong correlation, trauma-informed care is an important part of addiction treatment at Harmony. All staff have been trained in trauma-informed care. When SUD patients arrive for treatment, they often have few coping skills to deal with their traumatic memories and emotional pain. They have to learn to manage emotions and situations without drugs and alcohol.
Craig finally realized that “ego was not his amigo.” Your ego “makes you cocky and doesn’t allow you to see your real self,” he says. “I rode the ego train 24/7.”
Things are much better now for Craig. “I don’t want to be that person anymore. I’m really excited that I am getting clear and more focused. I’m starting to understand things that I read in the Big Book, that we talk about in meetings, that I’m witnessing.”
At Harmony, he began to learn how to process his trauma, acquiring important coping skills. After his discharge, he connected with a sponsor within a week and—thanks to Zoom—was able to attend several meetings a day. The Daily Reflections and two other AA books go with him everywhere he goes.
“I have to work at this every day. It’s like a diet or going to the gym – you have to put in the work.” If you don’t work on your recovery every single day, you’re cheating yourself.
Recovery is always possible. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, or you have questions about our programs, call Harmony today at (970) 432-8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible.

Creative Flexibility: Integrating Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Music Therapy

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

Join us to discuss Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Music Therapy, and how the intersection of these treatment methods is effective with dual diagnosis populations. Together, we will explore integrative approaches within multiple different treatment settings and experience effective interventions through real-time experientials. Continue reading “Creative Flexibility: Integrating Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Music Therapy”

How Harmony Survived the 2020 East Troublesome Fire

2020 has been a tough year for many addiction treatment providers. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in the spring and has made recovery work difficult ever since—for people with addiction and their therapists. “Getting sober during COVID-19 definitely has its challenges,” says Harmony alumna Shayla E. The Harmony Foundation had to implement a number of precautionary measures to ensure staff and client safety.

In October, Harmony suddenly faced another dangerous challenge: the East Troublesome wildfire. As with COVID, the entire Harmony community rose to the challenge.

“Before October 21, the East Troublesome fire had mostly been a nuisance,” reported The Colorado Sun, “burning through dense trees and steadily gobbling up terrain.” Then it suddenly turned into a massive firestorm and on October 22, it began to threaten the Harmony campus.

The leadership team immediately came together for an emergency meeting. “There were also other fires in the area,” remembers Harmony CEO Jim Geckler. “We had carefully monitored the Cameron Peak fire earlier that week, which was unsettling enough. Then the East Troublesome fire jumped the mountain and started to burn on our side on Thursday morning (Oct 22).”

It was time to make a decision. When fire officials issued a voluntary evacuation advisory, Harmony decided to play it safe and evacuate. After the leadership meeting made the call to leave and not wait for a mandatory evacuation order, Geckler explained the situation to the clients and let them know what to bring along.

“We had solid communication between all parties involved and because we had done a lot of preparation and training in the past, we were ready to go within 45 minutes. We packed up the medical center, had a great procedure in place for moving the belongings of clients and how to move medications safely. By 12:30 we were lined up caravan-style and ready to go.”

Everything went seamlessly because everybody communicated and everybody knew what they were supposed to do. “Strong communication between the leadership team, the staff, and the clients, as well as the ability of people to make the necessary decisions, allowed us to move forward quickly,” says Geckler.

The destination was a hotel in Greeley, Colorado. With the support of staff at the DoubleTree by Hilton Greeley at Lincoln Park, Harmony was able to successfully relocate all clients and continue to provide them with quality treatment in a safe, welcoming environment.

When Harmony’s chief marketing officer Gina de Peralta Thorne called ahead from the road, the only questions were ‘what do you need?’ and ‘when do you need it?’ “I told them we needed 28 rooms and conference space and that we were 20 minutes out,” remembers Thorne. “They were just remarkable at giving us what we needed to keep clients safe in their recovery. We even used the situation in therapy, discussing how the environment in the hotel was very different from the Harmony campus and how that worked for them.”

The medical team had to quickly build a makeshift detox facility in one of the rooms with an ironing board as a reception desk.

“We managed in an emergency setting,” says Jim Geckler. “I’m proud to say we had uninterrupted client care, every single decision throughout the evacuation was made around client care. It was inspiring to see how people rose to the occasion.”

“Our client-focused culture is collaborative. Over the past seven years or so, we worked diligently to integrate better with other care providers in Colorado,” says Geckler. “We make sure we’re there when they need us and there wasn’t a moment when we didn’t feel supported by others. I received lots of text messages inquiring whether we’re okay, some of them just saying let me know what you need—that made it manageable for us. We had deliveries every day of treats, bottled water, and games. People kept asking how can we be of assistance?”

Once in place in the hotel, the focus was on keeping clients safe. “Usually our patients are in a safe, relatively controlled environment but near the hotel, we had locations where people do drug deals and some clients told us the park was a trigger for them,” remembers Gina Thorne.

Even though the hotel was safe from the wildfire, the Harmony team now had to contend with other dangers. “There was a bar in the hotel, for example, and we had to make sure clients would not be able to order alcohol from their rooms,” explains Thorne. “But the hotel staff learned quickly to work with our unique population. There was never any negative reaction to our clients, the staff was gracious and courteous, they really bent over backward to make sure we got what we needed.”

Again, the open environment was used for therapeutic effect. “We talked about it all the time,” says Geckler. “We made the experience a celebration and congratulated clients on a regular basis. We talked with them and made sure they understood the exceptional circumstances.”

Geckler is convinced that this group of clients will have an exceptional recovery because they are connected in ways other people are not. “It was a bonding experience, and the clients have really embraced it.”

Harmony stayed in Greeley for a whole week, finally returning to Estes Park on October 29. “We now have faced two unbelievable situations this year and we never considered shutting Harmony down,” says Geckler. “Our role is to be of service to our clients who are looking for help—we couldn’t just abandon them. We were able to keep stability for our clients and we were able to celebrate their achievements under difficult circumstances. Everybody stepped up and simply asked what they can do to help. In years to come, I will look back with pride on what we accomplished during this fire emergency.”

Rutgers Study Links Tobacco Use with Other Substance Use Among Sexual and Gender Minority Populations

Cigarette smoking is associated with frequent substance use and poor behavioral and physical health in sexual and gender minority populations, according to Rutgers researchers.

The study, published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine, examined tobacco use by sexual minority men and transgender women to better understand the relationships between smoking tobacco, other substance use, and mental, psychosocial, and general health.

The Rutgers researchers surveyed 665 racially, ethnically and socio-economically diverse sexual minority men and transgender women, 70 percent of whom reported smoking cigarettes.

They found that smoking was associated with race/ethnicity, marijuana, and alcohol use, and mental health concerns of the participants. Current smokers were more likely to be white and reported more days of marijuana use in the past month. The study also found that current cigarette smoking was associated with more severe anxiety symptoms and more frequent alcohol use.

“Evidence also tells us that smoking is associated with worse mental health and increased substance use, but we don’t know how these conditions are related to each other, exacerbating and mutually reinforcing their effects,” said Perry Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health and the study’s senior author.

LGBTQ+ people are more likely to smoke than their cisgender and heterosexual peers to cope with an anti-LGBTQ+ society, inadequate health care access, and decades of targeted tobacco marketing. Those social stressors drive the health disparities they face, which are compounded by a lack of LGBTQ-affirming healthcare providers, research shows.

“Our findings underscore the importance of holistic approaches to tobacco treatment that account for psychosocial drivers of substance use and that address the complex relationships between mental health and use of substances like alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana,” said Caleb LoSchiavo, a doctoral student at the Rutgers School of Public Health and the study’s first author.

The study once again illustrates the strong correlation between severe stress—especially trauma—and substance use disorder (SUD). LGBTQ+ and transgender people continue to be exposed to strong social stigma—and even physical violence—simply because of their sexual choices or gender identities, leaving many of them severely traumatized.

As a webpage by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about LGBTQ+ health warns that, “Stigma comes in many forms, such as discrimination, harassment, family disapproval, social rejection, and violence,” putting LGBTQ+ people at increased risk for particular negative health outcomes.

In many cases, smoking tobacco, and using other psychotropic drugs and alcohol are so strongly correlated because they are symptoms of the same kind of psychological stress. The more intense the stress, the greater the likelihood that a SUD will develop—and LGBTQ+ and transgender people generally experience higher levels of stress than their cisgender counterparts. They are simply trying to alleviate their stress with maladaptive coping skills.

Negative life experiences—especially in childhood—and persistent stress also increase the probability of developing mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and panic disorders—all currently intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic and all in turn correlated with substance use disorder.

The Rutgers scientists correctly emphasized the “importance of holistic approaches to tobacco treatment that account for psychosocial drivers of substance use.” Evidence-based addiction and mental health therapy must address all underlying conditions to achieve a positive outcome.

Harmony has provided cutting-edge treatment at its Estes Park center in Colorado for half a century. Our modern, holistic approach to addiction treatment acknowledges the important role mental health conditions and psychosocial factors play as drivers of substance use disorders.

If co-occurring conditions are not comprehensively addressed, clients are more likely to relapse because they may continue to use psychoactive substances to self-medicate those issues. All staff at Harmony have been trained in trauma-informed care. Modern addiction treatment requires a holistic approach that addresses all mental health issues relevant to the SUD and provides a solid foundation for sustained recovery from addiction.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, or you have questions about our programs, call Harmony today at (888) 986-7848 to get the help needed as soon as possible.

COVID Pandemic Drives Rise in Drug Overdose Deaths in Colorado

Drug overdose deaths in Colorado have been on the rise since March, coinciding with the full onset of the coronavirus pandemic, reported The Gazette in September. “By May, according to state health department data, the number of drug overdose deaths reached nearly twice the average from recent years. In May, 128 people died of overdoses in Colorado, compared to 73 in 2019, 79 in 2018, and 64 in 2017.”
Denver is on pace for a record number of fatal drug overdoses, reported Denverrite on Oct 1. “It took nine months in 2020 for Denver to match the number of fatal drug overdoses from all of last year.” Data show that the majority of drug deaths in the Colorado capital involve multiple substances, “with 60 percent of deaths involving three or more drugs and 19 percent involving five or more. The increase in deaths locally has been fueled by fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that can be up to 50 times stronger than heroin.”
Alcohol consumption has also increased significantly across the country. USA Todayreported in October about a new study showing that “American adults, particularly women, are drinking more amid the COVID-19 pandemic.” Alcohol consumption has increased by 14 percent compared with a year ago, including 17 percent for women, according to a report published in the JAMA Network Open. The study also showed a 41 percent increase in heavy drinking for women—defined as four or more drinks for women within a couple of hours and five or more for men.
Mental health and addiction professionals are not surprised to see more cases of substance use disorder (SUD) and more overdose deaths as the pandemic continues. “There are certain things that we know that happen with a stressful event like a pandemic or 9/11 or if the stock market crashes,” the president of the Mental Health Center of Denver, Dr. Carl Clark told The Gazette. “Anxiety goes up, depression goes up, suicides go up, and people’s use of substances goes up.”
Alcohol and drug misuse are strongly correlated with mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Substance use disorders are frequently the result of people under significant stress trying to self-medicate intense stress or mental health issues.
And just when SUD and mental health patients need help the most, outreach programs and treatment providers struggle to help with in-person care limited to reduce the spread of COVID-19 while states—including Colorado—struggle to find the funding for urgently needed support. “In Colorado, substance use treatment and prevention services, behavioral and mental health services saw a $20 million cut in funding as the state tax revenue plunged,” reported The Denver Post.
Harmony Foundation is a dual-diagnosis-capable facility serving clients with SUD and co-occurring mental health disorders. Clients who are diagnosed with mental health issues—such as anxiety, depression, and other trauma-related responses—will meet with our mental health and medical staff to address medication management. We work with our clients to teach them healthy coping skills to help them manage their co-occurring issues.
Despite difficult circumstances, Harmony continues to serve clients during the COVID-19 outbreak and is taking extra precautions to ensure staff and client safety. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction do not delay seeking treatment. If you have questions about our programs, call us at 970.432.8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible

Sensory Based Strategies for Self-Regulation

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

Learn how our senses impact self-regulation and how can they can be used as tools to help calm or alert the brain and body. Sensorimotor strategies can be used to organize the brain and there are many ways to use them with your clients/patients beyond just sensory rooms. We will explore the 8 senses, review alerting and calming strategies within each sensory system, and review the differences between a sensory diet and sensory toolkit. This presentation will introduce sensory and sensorimotor as a therapeutic lens for working with your clients. Continue reading “Sensory Based Strategies for Self-Regulation”

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.