I Did What I Did
Well, that was interesting. I tried to open up an article I wrote recently about my Bottom Line theory of healing and it gave me an error message. I’ll take that as a message from God. Now I’m laughing. Perhaps God is telling me I still need to refine my approach. Such is life. You think you have things all figured out and then something unexpected slaps you in the face. How you deal with it shows your character.
I tend to take a hard look at myself when things go south. When I worked in Malibu, at one of the luxury residential programs that overlooked the beach, my boss used to blame people who failed. Oh, and people were relapsing all the time there because they could. Countless people were coming in and out of the facility to take the participants to 12-step meetings and it was easy to get drugs or alcohol from them and even keep it on site. Was anything done about this? Even after the substances were removed there were no consequences. Why? Because my boss wanted to warehouse people and make money. There wasn’t a program there at all, except for our top-notch chefs. The pay wasn’t great but the meals sure were. My boss always said the person wasn’t ready to heal.
I transferred to a Mental Health Urgent Care center, where our television was blasting in the waiting room all the time. One day I walked into the room to grab a new client and there, center stage on the Dr. Phil show was my ex-boss, telling that same story. He and Dr. Phil treated identical twins at the same time. One was in the Malibu facility, the other at Dr. Phil’s and after three days the Malibu twin relapsed while the other twin thrived at Dr. Phil’s facility. “They weren’t ready?” Blaming the client irked me. From that moment I vowed to open a place and do treatment the right way. If there was a relapse or other things that failed, I needed to look at my approach and refine it. After owning Basic Steps Mental Health for six years, there has been a lot of refining.
The main issue I have to deal with daily is the level of investment somebody puts into the program. When people sit there bored, or go over the same issue, avoiding deeper wounds, then they aren’t fully invested. That’s on me. I love what we present because it has impacted and changed me fundamentally, so I ask myself, how can I make it more accessible to them? Now, I don’t push. There are reasons why people don’t want to deal with an issue and I honor that. I keep thinking of my own recovery where at the time I knew there were deeper things I had to deal with, but I wasn’t ready to re-experience the pain of it. So, I plant seeds. I feel that it is important to teach people the tools to address an issue, and have them practice what they feel comfortable with, and when it is time to do the deep diving, I am willing to go on the journey with them, because I have done so numerous times. Am I totally healed? No. Partially? I think so. But, I have learned to be gentle with myself, continue to use the tools, and ultimately find resolve.
A co-worker was telling me about his wife having to attend residential treatment numerous times. In one, the clinical director told him, we did what we did. I had to gnaw on that statement. Of course, they did what they did, it is a given, but as I pondered this, it was a brilliant statement. Yes, we therapists do what we do and do so to the best of our ability, though if something clunks, I am willing to look at the process, refine it, and then present it again. The reason why I stay with a process is because each thing I present has had a positive impact on myself.
I did what I did because that is what I knew at the time. As licensed therapists, we have standards we need to adhere to and one rule is to operate within our level of expertise. This is why I don’t tell clients what medication to take. Who am I? I’m not a medical doctor, I’m a doctor of the mind. I can operate on thinking patterns, not on the chemicals in one’s body. To adjust the mind, I go with what has worked in the past, what I have been trained to use, and try to find methods that make the sharing of my information easy, fun, and user-friendly. If something goes clunk, I change my approach.
I enjoy teaching new therapists how to be counselors. Each has a unique style all their own and I learn a lot from them. I’ve realized that my style is very laid back. I tend to not push and allow things to organically appear. One of my interns likes to gently push. “Come on, I know there is more…” She will say. In fact, one of my clients pushed even more. “Feel this, tell me everything that was going on at this time.” The result is, I get to learn more each day.
Our IOP program teaches participants how to be counselors. Not formally where they will get certified (but that is an interesting concept), but learning how to apply these tools so they can use them on themselves. Psychology is such a mystery to most, so learning the basic tools (or basic steps) will help people step through issues that tend to take place throughout life.
We had a few slips with participants this week. In the first year of treatment, 60% of people will relapse and when a few didn’t show up for a week it was discovered they felt ashamed with their relapse. Do we beat them up? No. I too, had slips when I was first getting sober and understand that it is an incredible challenge to stay away from something that made me feel good, or did it? I was so used to using that it was my normal and staying away from it was incredibly difficult. Try to stay away from eating Ice Cream. See how long you can do that. The substances were my Ice Cream and on hot days when everyone wanted to go out and get Ice Cream it was hard to say no. “I’m getting Strawberry, how about you?”
Ultimately, what stopped me from using was being stubborn. There was just an emphatic NO! I was tired of the games I was playing within myself and had to just stop. I learned to hate the thought of my Ice Cream. It took me a good five months before I realized I lost the desire to eat this Ice Cream and found other things that satisfied me, though they were more psychological.
Until people are fully committed, I have to remain patient and hopeful. My first supervisor told me he always thinks people will recover because he didn’t want his negativity to hinder a person’s journey. Therapists are there to provide hope, support, and encouragement. He was the best and I try to carry on his tradition (I miss you, Dr. Noah).
Are the slips disappointing? That is an interesting question for me. At times they are, but other times it is what a person needs to finally stop the fantasies and get the reality that the game-playing is finished.
One client came in from the street. I knew him from the past, he was in bad shape and I allowed him to sleep off his buzz on the front couch as I signed off papers that he was attending treatment. He eventually stopped using, began addressing his issues, and after a few weeks ended up on the couch again. That’s when I told him that I was enabling his behaviors and wouldn’t tolerate him coming in under the influence again. That was five years ago and he has remained sober since that day. I remember saying to him, “You can play with this and go back to jail, or just go the distance.” Whatever I said must have sunk in because not only did he put in his all, but he also helped countless people who were attending our groups.
We did what we did. That’s all we can do. In each given moment we are doing the best that we know. Given our life experience, it is all we can do. Though if what we do clunks, there is information there. If we keep clunking, we will continue to fail. If we use the failures to learn and grow, then it makes for a wonderful life, full of opportunities for healing, growth, and happiness.
Compassionate Care is Always Available
There are many more tools and strategies you can use in your pursuit of happiness. Here is where we come in. Contact us at Basic Steps Mental Health and let us support and educate you on this journey back to your loving heart center. Imagine living a heart-centered life, regardless of what is happening externally. We’d love to be of help.
For 25 years, Dr. Scott Alpert, the clinical director of Basic Steps Mental Health, has treated over 7,000 people with mental health and addiction problems, using a Psychological approach that mixes and matches ten of the top approaches used in the industry. We are here virtually and in-person to help you get through this COVID-19 pandemic and many other difficulties you may be experiencing.
May you have good mental health.