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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Building Healthy Habits That Last

A habit refers to a behavioral choice we make that becomes regular and consistent. 
At times we may be conscious of our habits and other times completely unaware of what we are doing. Habits can be both good and bad, however, it is the bad habits that cause problems and dysfunction in our lives that need to be replaced. 

Unfortunately, bad habits can be very hard to break. Examples of unhealthy bad habits can include things we traditionally think of like smoking, nail-biting, interrupting, or eating excessive junk food, as well as other bad habits that escape our awareness. This might look like responding to anger with aggression, deflecting when offered feedback, shutting down before a conversation is finished, or otherwise using alcohol or other drugs to cope, celebrate, or commiserate.

The bad news is that the list of bad habits is practically endless. The good news is that we can replace bad habits with good ones and even create additional new and healthy habits that have a lasting positive effect on our lives. Holistic recovery from addiction is built upon not only replacing negative addictive behaviors but also creating positive alternatives, building healthy habits that last. 

Choices! Choices! Choices!

Think about a time when you made a positive healthy choice for yourself. It doesn’t matter how small or big the choice was, just try to remember how you felt. Most likely that positive choice felt good. So good in fact that you promised yourself you would “stick to this new plan,” until it developed into a lasting healthy habit.

As time went on, however, you found it harder and harder to commit to the choice. The new choice failed to develop into a routine habit, and you found yourself right back where you started. Similarly, for those attempting to overcome negative habits such as addiction, they will find that there is a similar cycle of relapse/lapse before true behavioral change takes root. 

Giving up bad habits and starting new and healthier habits can be incredibly difficult. But there are definitely ways you can increase your ability to start and sustain healthy choices that turn into healthy long-term habits. 

Frustrating? Yes! Impossible? No! 

Dr. Susan Czaikowski, a noted behavioral change expert from the National Institute of Health states that “It can be frustrating to experience setbacks, especially when you are trying to make healthy lifestyle changes.” The encouraging news however is that “research shows that change is possible and there are proven strategies that increase the chances of success.”

By working through the frustration and committing to developing new and healthy habits, your lifestyle and the way you feel will drastically improve. Just a few examples include improved health, improved finances, improved mood, and increased self-worth. 

Strategies for developing lasting healthy habits

  • Conscious Awareness
Start by identifying and gaining awareness of your current habits both good and bad. Write down or make a mental note of all the behaviors you do daily that are routine, regular, and done without prompting. Make a list of the habits you would like to keep and a list of those you want to replace with healthier more positive choices. 

Perhaps you reach for junk food when you experience stress, or you interrupt people when they are speaking to you or light up a cigarette to settle your mood. Whatever your habits are, the first step in breaking them or replacing them with new ones is to gain conscious awareness of what you do routinely. 
  • Develop a Plan
Identify some goals. For example; every day at lunchtime I will walk 30 minutes to replace sitting; when I feel sad or anxious I will find someone I trust to talk to or take the dog for a walk to replace reaching for and eating junk food; I will keep fruits and vegetables in the house to replace cookies and chips, etc. 

You may even consider sharing this plan with a trusted friend. Peer support has been proven to keep us motivated and committed to our goals.
  • Remember that Small Steps make a huge difference
Changes can be fast or slow. There is no need to rush or set yourself up to be discouraged by entertaining unrealistic expectations. 

Even small changes are still changes. One less bag of potato chips a day equals seven fewer bags of chips per week! Maybe you didn’t walk a full 30 minutes and instead walked 15 minutes. Although a 15-minute walk is short of your identified goal, it is still 15 minutes more than before. 

The important thing to remember is to put effort into making some change every single day.
  • Think Ahead
Be proactive and think ahead! For example, shop for healthy foods early in the week and have the house pre-stocked with healthy habit-forming snacking. Early in the morning plan your time to walk so you know ahead of time that walking has been incorporated into your schedule for that day.
By planning ahead, you are setting yourself up for the best chance to regularly engage in new healthy habit-forming behaviors. 

Think about the future consequences of your new habits. Healthier weight, reduced risk for diabetes, healthier heart and lungs, and improved social interactions and improved mood. 
  • Acknowledge and Reward your efforts
Research tells us that when behaviors are followed by positive reinforcement, we are more likely to repeat those behaviors. 
Be sure to reward yourself for engaging in any healthy and positive changes you have done. Size and quantity don’t matter. If you make a positive change, give yourself a positive reward. 

Rewards can include watching a favorite movie, giving yourself a pedicure, or counting your efforts as a step towards a larger purchase or goal. 
  • Persevere
Don’t give up! Some habits can be insidious and very hard to break, while others are more easily replaced with healthier behavior choices.  The important thing to remember is that every day some type of change and new behavior must be implemented. 

Holistic Recovery at The Haven

Stick with these listed strategies and never stop pursuing healthy changes across all areas of your life. Keep reminding yourself of how sticking with these new habits can change your life! Even small changes can have large impacts on improving your lifestyle and keep your recovery practice strong.

Give us a call today to learn more about the holistic recovery environment we offer at The Haven that will help you overcome the particularly destructive habit of addiction, and renew to your best today!

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Empowering Women Throughout the Recovery Process

“There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself”
-Hannah Gadsby

What is “Empowerment” and Why Does it Matter? 

In recent days, the idea of empowerment has become a bit of a buzzword and rallying cry heard on the frontiers of social justice. Historically as well, the idea of “empowerment” has been used to reclaim and inspire incredible change in combatting societal and cultural systemic oppression of marginalized identities. We’re often encouraged and empowered to use our voice to join the cause. 

But what place does empowerment have for women in the substance use recovery process? 

Reclaiming Your Power

Although the first step of any 12-step group like Alcoholics Anonymous or its cousins (NA, CA)  involves admitting your own powerlessness to overcome your addiction to drugs or alcohol, like many important constructs, this must be held in a balance with the idea of your own innate power to create change in your life. 

Thus, it is important, and for many, it is healing, to acknowledge the power that substance abuse has in disrupting and controlling aspects of life and well-being. However, it would be a disservice to not explore and utilize the healing potential that lies in empowering women to see the strength that lives within them as they journey through the recovery process. 

Empowering women throughout the recovery process also involves helping them to find their unique voice, to increase their confidence, ability to advocate for themselves, and to understand the cultural and community context of their recovery. 

You Are More Than Your Substance Use

Utilizing an empowerment approach through the recovery journey separates the individual from their substance use. Empowerment in this context says, “You are not defined by your substance use - you are much more than that!” Your worth as a person is not based on your struggle with substance use. 

From this perspective, we understand that using substances is a coping mechanism that develops as an attempt to deal with overwhelming or uncomfortable feelings, oftentimes as a response to trauma. When one’s feelings, thoughts, and relationships are not providing them with authentic and genuine fulfillment, it can lead to shame, pain, confusion, anger, and a host of other complex experiences. Substance use is a survival tool to try to numb this chaos and feel satisfaction, temporarily

Viewing substance use through this lens allows for easier separation of substance use from the individual. It can be powerful and inspiring to understand that using substances is a result of an unmet need and that there is a way to reclaim that control and power without relying on substances to meet those needs. Focusing on our individual unique strengths and tapping into the fullest potential within the self allows us to move towards wholeness. 

Using your Voice to Power through Recovery

As discussed in this study, there are three important ways we can benefit from empowerment in recovery: intrapersonal, interactional, and environmental.
  1. Intrapersonal: our internal experience

Exploring and understanding the internal factors that contribute to using substances can lead to a deeper awareness of self. This insight empowers us to heal from trauma, pursue passions and goals, and develop greater self-assuredness, all of which can be immensely valuable on the road to recovery. 
  1. Interactional: our relational experience

Our relationships and interpersonal communication serve as another area of focus when considering the effects of empowerment in the recovery process. This can include boundary setting, identifying the impact of crucial relationships during childhood on current self-concept, surrounding oneself with supportive people, and prioritizing accountability in close relationships. 
  1. Environmental: our community experience

Community resources are an integral part of the recovery journey, particularly for women. Research has shown that a lack of resources and access to these limited resources exists for women in recovery. Barriers include “a lack of services and resources to address pregnancy and/or childcare, economic barriers, comorbid psychological disorders, trauma histories, and a lack of social support from partner and/or family”. This is one of the many places where we at The Haven see a need and work to collaborate and provide supportive resources to women to empower them through their recovery. 

Self-acceptance and self-worth

As Dr. Charlotte Kasl states in her 16-step approach for discovery and empowerment, “Empowerment is based on love.” This includes self-love, rooted in self-acceptance and self-worth. 

The more we are able to practice self-awareness, the more compassion and acceptance of all parts of ourselves we will discover. This allows us to identify the limiting beliefs that our past experiences and trauma have instilled in us, and how these beliefs contribute to a weakening of our sense of self-confidence.

As we reconstruct and develop a unique internal belief system that aligns with our true self, we are able to reclaim the power within us. Finding the power in self reveals wisdom, truth, acceptance, commitment, compassion, and empathy - all of which are mighty agents of change throughout the recovery journey.

Women-Specific Recovery at The Haven

There is specific intentionality that drives the staff at The Haven towards developing a greater understanding the experience of women, and what their unique needs may be throughout the treatment process. By seeking to further empower them with a new narrative about themselves, as well as resources and tools we are able to help these women create lasting and sustainable recovery. Learn more about our transformational treatment programs or give us a call at 1-805-202-3440 to get connected today!

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Uncovering the Root of Substance Use: The Link Between Trauma and Addiction

Studies of people living with addiction have time and time again shown the high percentage of trauma that exists among this population. A groundbreaking longitudinal study, The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), showcases evidence and information regarding the relationship between trauma and substance use. 

The original ACES study consisted of sending participants a 10 item questionnaire evaluating certain traumatic and detrimental situations they may have experienced as a child. Questions assess the prevalence of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, neglect, caregiver substance use, and other adverse experiences. 

This news source dedicated solely to reporting on the research and effects of ACES informs that compared with those who have an ACES score of 0, people with higher scores are more likely to use substances - with each additional ACE, the likelihood increases two to four times. Those who have an ACE score of 5 or higher are seven to 10 times more likely to live with an addiction. 
Additionally, of those in substance use treatment, 75% report a history of trauma

The research is clear. There is a definite connection between trauma and addiction. Let’s explore this deeper and discuss how trauma-informed treatment is essential in providing clients with comprehensive and long-lasting recovery.  

For more information on the ACES study and how childhood trauma has a significant physiological impact on development, check out this TED talk from Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. 

How the body reacts to trauma 

Not only does trauma affect the emotional and mental health of a person, but it also influences brain functioning as well. Let’s explore this in more depth:
Many of us have heard of the “fight or flight” response our bodies activate when we perceive a threat. This is the body’s sympathetic nervous system at work. When a situation appears to be dangerous, our bodies prepare to either fight against or flee from the predator as a form of protection. This is why our heart pounds, our breathing rate changes, and our pupils dilate when we are in a stressful situation. In the face of physical threats, this can be an incredibly useful tool of protection to spring us into action. However, as in the case of anxiety and trauma, our brain has difficulty discriminating between perceived and actual threats.

In addition, if a person is exposed to frequent stressors and threats, such as traumatic experiences, the brain is constantly being flooded with hormones associated with the fight or flight response. This eventually alters the chemical sensitivity of brain functioning, and even if the person is no longer experiencing the trauma, the brain may perceive low-level stressors (i.e. an upcoming final exam) as an intense threat and react accordingly. 

Based on these findings, it is apparent that trauma affects someone’s ability to cope in a beneficial and healthy way. It may seem nearly impossible to feel any kind of emotional control or interpersonal fulfillment when coping skills are limited and physiologically impacted. In many instances, individuals are desperate to alleviate the pain and may turn to using substances as a way to avoid the intensity of these emotions and cope. 

Addiction as a way to cope with trauma

As a way to manage the effects of trauma, some may seek comfort and fulfillment via self-medicating, as is explained in the following excerpt from this article

“Self-medication is any activity or behavior the trauma survivor may use in an attempt to alleviate pain. A trauma survivor lives in a never-ending state of pain, continually re-experiencing a horrifying event or situation, frightened that it will occur again, and carrying a sense of the world as a terrifying place over which she has no control. Relief may come from a drug, from alcohol, or from “comforting” behaviors such as excessive eating, shopping, gambling, or sex.” 

Self-medication is often used by trauma survivors as a way to cope with and numb their painful reality. This form of temporary relief can lead to dependency or addiction. However, substance use doesn’t actually take away the pain and trauma - it simply reduces awareness of it. In addition to solely being a “mask” instead of a solution, substance use limits an individual’s ability to utilize healthy coping skills, and can even lead to re-traumatization. 

Trauma-informed recovery at The Haven

Since there is such a strong connection between trauma and addiction, it is imperative to have a comprehensive treatment process that attends to substance use recovery while also addressing trauma and its impact. It’s important that the healing journey includes uncovering the root of the substance use, which research shows, is oftentimes a response to trauma. Including this trauma-informed approach in treatment allows for healing from the pain that led to substance use in the first place. 

The Haven at Pismo offers individualized care, carefully considering each person’s unique lived experiences and past. We are here to help you renew to your best today.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Self-Care This Summer: How to Care for Yourself After Experiencing the Collective Trauma That Is COVID-19

Caring for yourself during times of uncertainty

The current COVID-19 global pandemic has disrupted life in a monumental way and quite literally, the world is experiencing collective trauma. 

Trauma “violates the familiar ideas and expectations about the world of an individual or society, plunging them into a state of extreme confusion and uncertainty” (Aydin, 2017), which accurately represents the current experience of many. 

The unexpected difficulties and overwhelm can greatly affect the mental health and well-being of those impacted. With daily experiences of rapidly changing emotions and confronting new realities during this crisis, what can often happen is that our nervous systems become dysregulated in their attempt to process and cope with the distress. 

A key component of wellness during this time is practicing self-care. This is a term that is widely used and perhaps also widely misunderstood, as it encompasses much more than bubble baths and naps. Self-care is always vital in our daily routines, but particularly during the time of COVID-19 and as we return to what may become our new normal. 

Self-care is “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health” -Oxford Dictionary

This blog takes the definition a step further and describes self-care as “any intentional act of meeting one’s emotional, physical, or spiritual needs. Most often it extends beyond tasks of daily living, but when even those have become a challenge, securing them can be a great act of self-care”. 

Let’s explore the several dimensions of wellness that exist, and provide some self-loving options within each dimension that can help bring nourishment and fulfillment during and after the COVID-19 crisis. 

Self-Care Techniques

Self-care techniques vary in their level of effort and impact. Some practices are quick, require less energy to complete, and provide a boost of self-love that temporarily fill your tank. Other practices are more time-consuming, require significant effort, and provide a more fulfilling, significant impact. 

Not all of these techniques will work for everyone - take what works for you, and let go of what doesn’t. Listen to yourself and your body, but also remember that self-care is not meant to always be easy and fun. There will be times that it will be difficult and uncomfortable. Walk through these practices with mindful awareness and compassion.  

Emotional Wellness:

Low Effort

  • Take a short nap
  • Watch your favorite show or movie, stand-up routine, or YouTube video
  • Write down some things you are currently grateful for - both simple and momentous 
  • Spend some quality time with a pet! Or if you do not have a pet, watch some cute animal videos online

Medium Effort

  • Track your mood using an app

High Effort

  • Spend some time journaling your thoughts and feelings. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is that comes up for you
  • Write a letter to your younger self, taking the time to attend to the unmet needs of your younger self
  • Engage in therapy - many therapists are offering virtual sessions to remain safe during COVID-19

Physical Wellness:   

Low Effort

  • Delight in your favorite snack
  • Take your prescribed medications
  • Practice basic hygiene such as brushing your teeth or taking a shower. On some days that may be all you have the capacity of doing and that’s okay
  • Drink lots of water throughout the day to stay hydrated

Medium Effort

  • Enjoy some light pampering such as a face mask or a bubble bath
  • Stretch your body
  • Cook a favorite meal or experiment with a new recipe
  • Make any pending appointments such as scheduling with your doctor, dentist, psychiatrist, etc. 
  • If it is safe and you are able, go for a walk outside

High Effort

  • Move your body with an at-home workout
  • Plan to join a sports team or try out a new physical activity such as swimming or rock climbing 

Spiritual Wellness: 

Low Effort

  • Repeat a personal mantra, or write a mantra on sticky notes and place in visible places as reminders throughout your day
  • Pray or set an intention for your day
  • Spend time in nature

Medium Effort

  • Try a progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing exercise
  • Practice meditation 


High Effort

  • Write letters of gratitude to loved ones
  • Volunteer your time towards something that you are passionate about
  • Reflect and connect with a higher purpose in a meaningful way that resonates with you
  • Explore your spiritual and religious beliefs
  • If you have experienced a complicated or traumatic relationship with spirituality/religion, seek help in healing from this

Intellectual Wellness: 

Low Effort

  • Listen to an audiobook or podcast
  • Watch a TEDTalk on a topic that interests you

Medium Effort

  • Read a book
  • Create some new goals -  they can be short term, long term, or both

High Effort

  • Learn a different language
  • Participate in a Webinar on a topic of interest to you
  • Learn a new skill that interests you - sewing, home repair, financial literacy, photography, etc.

Social Wellness:

Low Effort


  • Take a break from your phone - recharge and connect with yourself
  • Text a friend or family member

Medium Effort

  • Host a virtual game night or movie night
  • Video chat with someone you haven’t seen in a while
  • Reach out to a support group

High Effort

  • Practice setting boundaries 
  • Plan a future trip, vacation, or outing with friends
  • See what it’s like to disconnect from social media for a week, or set daily limits on screen time

Practicing self-compassion amidst the overwhelm

Your current reality may feel unpredictable and overwhelming. Ensure you are gently and compassionately caring for yourself by prioritizing your well-being. This is an incredibly important part of your relapse prevention plan, and to your goal of lasting recovery and greater wellbeing. The Haven is here to walk alongside you in your wellness and recovery journey and we aim to be a support to you every step of the way. Get connected with us today!