5 Reasons Mental Illness and drug use hangout together.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

sign

No Drugs.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Why do so many people have both Substance Use Disorders and a Mental Illness?

Having multiple problems is so common today that we are surprised when someone shows up looking for help for one and only one problem. People who have a mental illness often abuse drugs or alcohol. People with a Substance abuse disorder frequently have one or more mental illnesses.

The overlap is so common we have come to expect that someone who has one life problem is at risk to develop another. When people have more than one problem it is hard to recover from one unless the other gets treated.

The old method was to ask the mentally ill to give up drugs and alcohol, stay clean 30 days and then they could get help for their mental illness. Substance abuse clients were told to go get their depression or anxiety treated and then come back for drug treatment. The result was people with multiple problems who were ping-ponged back and forth between providers and many never got the help they needed.

The newer approach is to treat multiple problems all at once and improvements in one life area help recovery in other areas. So why are mental health problems so very common among those with substance use disorders? Here are some of those reasons.

A prior Mental illness puts you at risk to abuse substances.

Having a mental health problem puts you at risk to use substances to cope with your issue. Someone with anxiety finds that alcohol or drugs help them get past the anxiety and be more outgoing. The more of a drug they do the better they feel. Before long this use is out of control and becomes first a habit and then an addiction.

A person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder will find that chemicals, alcohol or drugs, numb the symptom. Some people drink to forget the depression. All of these uses of chemicals to cope with a mental health issue could fit under the idea of self-medication. Using drugs and alcohol can help the person cope for a while, but since this is an unsafe coping strategy eventually the person’s solution becomes a second problem.

Common stressors and environments increase risks for both.

Living in poor neighborhoods increase the risk that you will have life difficulties. More crime more mental health issues and more drug and alcohol abuse in your neighborhood. Poverty is depressing and substances are a way to cope, temporarily, with poverty and unemployment.

Substances change your brain and induce mental health disorders.

People try drugs for all sorts of reasons. Many people have had the experience of a hangover. After that experience, a common treatment for the hangover is the hair of the dog that bit you, more alcohol.

Substance use progresses from experimentation to habitual use. The more of a drug someone uses the more their brain chemistry changes. At some point, not a planned occurrence, this habit becomes a mental need, a psychological addiction to the substance. Eventually, this progresses to a psychical addiction, a chemical dependency.

Excessive substance abuse results in long-term changes in the functioning of the brain. Depression, anxiety or even psychosis may develop as a result of using, being under the influence and withdrawing from substances.

Life experiences from either increase the risk of the other problem.

People with serious mental illnesses are more likely to be the victim of crime than the perpetrator. Being mentally ill makes you vulnerable. Having a mental illness increases the risk that you will be unemployed, have a psychical illness and die at an earlier age. All of these are risk factors for substances abuse.

The life experiences that drug users have, poor neighborhoods, crime, and poverty are all risk factor for poor mental health. The drug using experience increases the risk for traumatic experiences. Rapes, robberies, assaults, and incarcerations all can accompany substance use disorders.

The experience of having a substance use disorder increases the risk for a mental illness. Trying to live with a mental illness increase the risk that you will abuse substances.

Giving up a drug of choice is painful.

For most substance abusers their drug of choice becomes their best friend. Women come and go but Sherry is always waiting in the bottle for you. A man may leave you but Jose and Jack will always be in the bottle when you need them.

Crystal is always ready for your next date with the pipe.

People become closer to their drug of choice than to their family or friends. Giving up drugs or alcohol means losing that best friend. This loss of a friend and support system can leave the substance user alone with no coping mechanism and at high risk to develop a mental health problem or return to active use.

Hope that these 5 ideas will help to explain why having both a substance use disorder and a mental illness at the same time is so very common. If you or someone you know has one or both of these issues help is available. If that person has both conditions, look for a treatment provider who is comfortable with working on both issues at the

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Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

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Alcohol, Drugs and Mental Illnesses

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Drugs.

Drugs.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

How are alcohol and other drugs connected to mental and emotional problems?

Alcohol

Alcohol

There are clearly a large number of connections between drug and alcohol use and abuse and mental, emotional and behavioral illness. The recognition of these connections has resulted in a growing emphasis on the relationships between drugs and alcohol and those conditions that we call Mental Illnesses.

This overlap, those times when someone has both a substance use disorder and a mental illness, was called first dual-diagnosis and more recently co-occurring disorders. The overlap is common but not total.

There are people with a mental illness that do not have a substance use disorder. There are also those with a substance use disorder that do not have a mental illness. Over time we have come to see that the overlap is so large that it is more common to see someone with both of these problems than not. The professionals in the field have come to think of co-occurring disorders as an expectation and not an exception.

This understanding that there are reasons for the overlap, or co-occurrence, of these two different disorders has spawned a lot of efforts to find effective treatments for people with multiple disorders. The advances in brain studies have resulted in a lot of research studies on the effects of various drugs and the brain. We now know more than ever before about how drugs and alcohol are affecting people’s thinking, feeling, and behavior.

Alcohol, the drinkable kind, has been around and in use longer than any other drug. We know more about this particular substance and its effect on the brain than probably any other chemical. I recently did a literature search for current scientific articles on the effects of Alcohol on the brain and the search returned 28,834 articles. Other searches would, of course, have returned even more.

Given this huge and growing body of research, I thought I should spend some time and some blog posts reviewing some of this new knowledge. While I can’t read every study and surely will only be able to report on a few highlights, I want to tell you about some of the things we know and some of the things I think about the effects of drugs on the brain and on those things we call mental illness.

There are several sources of this new knowledge. These studies, beginning with the ones focused on alcohol come from the following areas.

1. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.

Studies of children who have been exposed to Alcohol before birth show changes in the body, brain, learning, and behavior of those children. We used to think that only those children who were exposed to large amounts of alcohol developed problems. The more the research progressed the more we have concluded that any amount of alcohol consumed during pregnancy increased the risks to the child.

Just because a woman drank during pregnancy does not automatically mean that any problems her child has are the result of her drinking. Still, the link is so strong that most authorities now believe that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption for a woman who is or may become pregnant.

One result of the large overlap between substance use disorders and other mental illness is that a lot of people with a diagnosed disorder are at extra risk for risky sexual behavior and unplanned pregnancy. Parents with a disorder or two are more likely than others to produce an unplanned child.

2. Binge drinking.

The amount of damage drinking does to the body is correlated with the blood alcohol level. As a society, we have been looking at how much alcohol in the bloodstream is a safe level for someone to have and still drive.

Studies of the effects of various levels of alcohol on brain function have taught us a lot about the way in which increasing the level affects the person.

It looks certain that the higher the blood alcohol content the more the damage to the body and the brain. One drink a day all month may be theoretically safe but 30 drinks on one day is a very hazardous way to drink.

3. Alcohol affects structure and functioning of the brain.

We have known for a long time that chronic alcoholics have a reduced brain volume. We are now seeing studies of the effects of alcohol on brain regions and on the production of neurotransmitters. One treatment for depression is to increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. This is done by slowing the natural breakdown of serotonin which is one way many antidepressants work.

We know that alcohol is altering these neurochemicals and so may be increasing the risk of developing a mental illness, may make one worse or may mimic a disorder.

4. Chronic Alcoholics.

Studies of chronic alcoholics, how their brain works and the changes that brain undergoes have added to our understandings of what the alcohol may be doing to the other parts of the body and brain. Because alcohol totally mixes with water, and blood contains a lot of water, no part of the body avoids being damaged by drinking.

5. Developmental studies.

Studies of teens have suggested ways in which alcohol consumption may be affecting the development of the brain. The correlations between the amount that a teen drinks and the results of the rest of their lives, while not a proof of cause and effect, makes us think there are more connections than we previously realized.

We know that “F” students typically drink at least twice as much per week as the “A” students.

We also know that heavy drinkers take longer to heal from injuries than nondrinkers.

6. Brain scans and mice studies of the effects of alcohol.

Brain scans typically capture only a moment in time. Mice studies are not proof that what we see in mice is what is happening in humans. But when the two agree it lends credence to the concept that alcohol is fundamentally altering the way in which brains and the nervous systems function.

7. Learning studies and functional studies.

There have been a lot of studies on how alcohol and other drugs have been affecting people’s memory, behavior, visual and special recognition, learning and other specific brain functions.

Now that you know where the information is coming from let’s begin in future posts to look at why we think mental illness and substance use disorders so often occur together and then what are some of the specific effects of alcohol and other drugs on the body and the brain.

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Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

What is confabulation? Relationship to false memories and Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

What is confabulation?
Photo courtesy of pixabay.

What is confabulation?

Confabulation is sometimes called “honest lying” because the person telling the tale actually believes that it is true despite the apparent inaccuracy of their story.  It is related to false memories but appears to have specific causes other than incorrect memory storage and retrieval or implanted false memories.

Confabulation is that tendency for the brains of people who can’t remember things to try to fill in the gaps of missing memory thereby making up an explanation that will answer questions. This is particularly common among chronic alcoholics, though other brain issues also cause these symptoms.

It is common in chronic alcoholics, particularly those with Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome. These two syndromes used to be listed separately but current usage is to consider them both parts of the same disorder.

The Wernicke part has to do with eye movements, confusion, uncoordinated movement and sometimes even losing consciousness followed by death, which is always a bad side effect of any activity.

Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome is caused by a lack of Thiamine (vitamin B-1) as a result of chronic alcoholism or malnutrition.  This condition is sometimes referred to in alcoholism literature as “wet brain.” While it is treatable to some degree many chronic alcoholics never recover from the condition. In addition to confabulation and blackouts people with Korsakoff’s syndrome develop amnesia, lack insight, have reduced speech and stop caring about themselves and others.

The brains of chronic alcoholics shrink in volume and cells stop working resulting in many defects in thinking and memory.

Some authors report that confabulation results from gaps in the memory do to Blackouts or brownouts after which the brain needs to fill in the gaps by adding details from other events in the alcoholic’s life or by suggesting things that are possible even if they did not happen.

Sometimes these explanations are fantastic but it is the only explanation the person with confabulation can imagine. Confabulation can occur even without amnesia and can be extra details added onto memories.

With repeated efforts to fill in those gaps in memory, the alcoholic begins to believe those created memories.

Confabulation is also seen in people with traumatic brain injuries, Alzheimer’s disease or those with a severe mental illness which has interfered with the accurate storing of memories. This and other memory problems can also be found in people with eating disorders or excessive vomiting which results in poor nutrition to the brain.

Confabulation is most commonly verbal as in storytelling to self and others. It can become actions when the impaired person believes the story and takes action on that false memory.

The person confabulating can become confused and mix events from their real-life experiences with fictional accounts and stories they have heard in the past. They are especially at risk to confuse time, believing they did something yesterday which they did months or even years ago. They will swear they attended an appointment yesterday at an agency they have not visited in many months or possibly years.

Those with Korsakoff’s syndrome also get sources of information confused believing that they were told something by a counselor or case manager when they heard it from a friend or drinking buddies.

This might be a good place to repeat the rule of counseling. If there is any chance that the symptoms are caused by a medical condition and Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome, eating disorders and other conditions causing confabulation clearly have medical causes, see a medical doctor first.

Mental health treatments are only effective once the medical issues are managed.

This post was, I realize, a bit brief. I thought while we were talking about thinking problems that affect memory it was important to remind readers of the way in which alcohol, drugs, and medical issues might be impacting those memory issues.

It would be a mistake to dismiss memory issues, confabulation or other thinking defects as being purely psychological or learning based, without the client having been checked out by a medical doctor to rule out underlying medical issues.

Here is hoping that this post on confabulation, Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome and false memories was helpful and got you thinking about these issues.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

How did you know that? When and where we learn things matters.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Memory.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

You know you know something but can’t remember why.

Lately, I am having this problem more and more. How about you? And no it is not just about age. Seems that preschoolers have this same problem. It has to do with differing types of memories that were stored in different ways.

I go to write about something, maybe I remember a fact or a quote but I can’t for the life of me remember which book or article, out of the hundreds I have read, I got that from. I don’t want to just plagiarize someone else’s idea but at what point does it move from being something someone else told me and become something I just know because I know it?

Some things we know because of verbal memory. I know that George Washington was the first president of the United States; I also know that there was a thing called the Hundred Years War. I do not for the life of me remember when and where I first learned about either of those things.

This type of memory is semantic as in words or stories type memories. We know about Washington and the hundred acres woods or was that the hundred years war? But who told us.

There are other things that I remember clearly when and where I was the first time I heard about something. In that case, I can clearly tell you who it was that told me all about that “fact.” These specific learning experiences are called “episodic memories.”

The distinction between these two kinds of knowledge gets glossed over a lot. The result can be that we believe “facts” because someone told us and now, not remembering who it was that said that first; we just accept this as true. What if the person who told us that was wrong?

The source of our “facts” is important also.

This idea of separating out the things we just know from general knowledge and those things we can tell the exact time and place where we learned it has been studied in children. (See Bemis, et al., 2011, note that for once I found one of the studies that I was thinking of.)

Their study on very young children, looked at the times the kids could tell you specifically when and where they were when they first learned something and the times they felt they “just knew” something. They came up with some interesting ideas, albeit the conclusions are a bit tentative. But research types never seem to know anything for sure they just know they need to study this more.

Even in preschool kids, females seem more likely to remember the story of when they learned something rather than to just know that fact. Boys at that age just take it for granted they know what they know, more often than girls. Don’t lay this on genetics though. Researchers have concluded that this comes from the way the parents were spending more time telling their daughters stories about why things were the way they were as opposed to just saying to boys things were that way because they were.

When a little boy tells you he is smart or handsome he believes this is just because it is so. A little girl will be able to provide evidence. She is smart because her grandma said so. She is also cute because dad says so and very cantankerous, whatever that is because mom said so. See the difference between these two approaches?

Kids of both genders reported a variety of times and places they had learned things. They could also at a very early age report whether they saw something, heard it, read it in a book or learned it during an activity like a game.

This variation in how they knew when and where they learned things goes to the basic learning styles. Some people just learn things better when they see them and others when they read or hear and so on. Unfortunately, despite which way you may be best at learning we try to cram all kids into the same learning style. As they move along in school fewer, not more, ways of learning are likely to be emphasized.

Older kids are more likely than younger ones to remember when and where they learned something but the little ones could still describe the time and place that they first learned a particular fact.

This is back to the impact of that first impression. If the first time you learned about pigs you saw grandma feeding one, this is a whole lot different than if you saw “P is for Pig” in a storybook.

Boys do appear to be better able to learn from seeing things even from a very young age. Girls pick things up better from actually doing things. How much of those differences are the boys and girls and how much comes from the way mommies and daddies treat kids is open to debate?

The takeaway here is that we may remember lots of things we think are so, but not as many things that we can say when and where we learned them. Sometimes we might want to question those things we know but can’t say why we know them.

Remember that you heard this on counselorssoapbox.com OK?

  • Forgetting things may not be a memory problem (counselorssoapbox.com)
  • Learning to feel (counselorssoapbox.com)
  • Your autobiography as therapy (counselorssoapbox.com)
  • Mental Health, Self-improvement & Happy life – Counselorssoapbox.com January 2013 Best of Blog (counselorssoapbox.com)
  • Are you a Mind Reader? (counselorssoapbox.com)

    Staying connected with David Joel Miller

    Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

    Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

    Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

    For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

    Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

    Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

    For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Drugs increase false memories

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Memory pieces.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

They may not be lying;

They remember things that never happened.

Drugs suppress true memories but also increase false memories. We have heard a lot about false memories over the last few years. Most of it around questioning techniques that suggested to children they had been abused. As a result, they began to believe these things had happened and then thought they remembered things which turned out to be false memories.

Recent research suggests that drugs and alcohol, as well as certain emotional states, may increase the risk that what people in recovery are remembering did not actually happen despite their memories.

People with certain mental or emotional problems are at increased risk to have false memories even if they never abused substances. Something about the chemistry of the brain regulates not only true memories but also creates false memories. We can get ourselves into trouble when we start believing memories that never happened.

There is a common belief in recovery circles that substance abusers have told stories, lies, so often they begin to believe their own dishonesties. I have seen enough examples of this phenomenon to believe it does happen. But the creation of false memories goes beyond simple lies and the person who told that lie beginning to believe the falsehood.

One group of researchers conducted a study using two commonly used and abused substances and came up with some surprising results (Ballard et al 2012) surprising to me anyway.

The test they used, called the DRM, gives people a list of words, such as bed, rest, awake, tired, dream. What is missing from the list is a word that would be commonly associated with the word list but which was never shown to the research participants. In this case, the word they are looking for was “sleep.”

If you remember the list correctly or are very observant you know that sleep was not on the list. The trick here is to see how many people will swear that the missing word, in this case, sleep, was shown to them. Using a procedure like this the researcher can see if a specific drug or emotional condition will increase the risk of a false memory. In this experiment, they wanted to see how many people would say that the word sleep was shown to them when it had not been a part of the experience.

This simple experiment may not make much difference. Does it matter if I think sleep was on the list of words I read? But if a drug or emotion increases my errors on this test it suggests that I may remember other things that did not happen. Did I remember someone being at the party that was never there? Do you remember being touched inappropriately when what really happened was a handshake or a pat on the back? Those things matter.

Some drugs reduce your ability to remember things that did happen. Alcohol is at the head of the list. Benzodiazepines also impair memory. Some drugs have been called date rape drugs and banned or tightly controlled for the same reason. The big question has been what effect do these drugs have on the creation of false memories? Ballard and group looked at that question.

It would be easy to conclude that depressant drugs like Alcohol and benzodiazepines would reduce memory and therefore give room for more false memories to fill in the gap. There is a related concept called “Confabulation” in which alcoholics brains fill in the gaps in memory that are the result of not having stored memories in the first place. Confabulation plus blackouts leave the memory of Alcoholics suspect.

We would expect that stimulants like caffeine and amphetamines would increase true memories and reduce the chance of false memories. That is not what happens. In Ballard’s study Amphetamines, of the type prescribed for ADHD, increased true memories but also increased false memories. An earlier study by Capek and Guenther (2009) cited by Ballard found the same effects for Caffeine.

It would appear that depressants reduce true memories and allow for false memories and stimulant increase memory formation of both true and false memories.

So what about “All Arounder’s.” (See Inaba & Cohen book Uppers, Downers, and All Arounder’s, 2004.)  Ballard and friends also looked at the effects of Marijuana on memory. While I try to stay out of the whole medical marijuana debate some of you may remember my previous post on the effects of Marijuana on memory. That post was about the effects on storage and retrieval of true memories, what about marijuana’s effect on false memories?

The drug used in Ballard’s study was THC, the most studied active ingredient in Marijuana, given in pill form. While this is not exactly the same as smoking Marijuana it is likely to be very similar and much more specific that studies using drugs of unknown potency. There are other chemicals in smoked Marijuana and the research on those other compounds is very lacking.

They found that Amphetamines had a larger effect in creating false memories than THC and while THC may affect both memory storage and memory retrieval, this study at least did not find a significant increase in false memories for THC users.

There are lots of problems with taking studies done in the lab and translating them to the experiences of people who take drugs in their daily life.

It is worth noting that there was significant individual variation in the effects of both drugs on true and false memory. So the conclusions are for all the people in the study as a group and individual results did vary. This raises questions about what individual differences account for these variations.

In Ballard’s study, as in so many other studies, people with diagnosed mental illnesses or those with a current substance abuse problem are not included in the study. Those are exactly the people for whom the effects of drugs and mood states on false memory may be the most critical.

There are some studies of people with various mental health diagnoses examining the effects of having an emotional issue and the creation of false memories. In a future post, I want to talk about the effects of Depression, Anxiety, and OCD on true and false memories.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Are you original or ordinary?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Creativity

Creativity.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Which is better, being ordinary or being original?

Careful – think about this before you answer. We sometimes tell our kids to be original without thinking about the cost. We adults sometimes forgo being original without thinking about the benefits.

Ordinary people do what is expected.

There is a lot of safety and security in being ordinary. You don’t have to risk criticism as much as original people. You don’t get singled out for punishment. You don’t get much attention. But attention can be a problem if it brings with it negativity and derision. Who wants to be different if that difference is going to be punished?

Ordinary people get left alone but they also don’t get many rewards.

Being ordinary has some survival benefits. People or animals that are too different from others in the herd get driven out. In some cultures, the mentally ill are sent into the jungle to live alone. Better they get eaten that the productive people the reasoning goes.

In those sorts of situations being too original has its punishment.

Some people would prefer to be ordinary. They are willing to forgo the attention and the rewards which accrue from originality in order to avoid the criticism that comes with being unique.

Ordinary people can be counted on to do what is expected, no more and no less. This also means that they attend the preferred religious and political gatherings, think the correct things and largely do no one any harm. They also are slow to change when the circumstances shift.

Society needs conformity. Ordinary people conform. Even original people need to be original in the prescribed manner.

Original people do something different.

Originality, unfortunately, is also connected to making mistakes. The more original you are the greater the risk that you will do something, new, something unique, and it will be a total unequivocal failure.

Highly productive people do a lot of new original things; they also make some mistakes which can at times be highly visible. Even when original people do not fail, others will resist the changes the original person is causing. The establishment does not like change. Not unless it is change they created, change they can control and change that benefits them.

Not everyone likes originality. We tend to like the familiar, the routine and the expected. Even our excitement needs to fall within prescribed limits.

Edison is reported as saying he tried thousands of ways to make a light bulb before he found one that worked. The result could have been viewed as a man who made a record number of failures.

He reframed this as having found out thousands of things that would not work. By persistently trying things he eventually succeeded. He succeeded because he kept trying. Another person might have given up after a few dozen failures and worked on something else that had a better chance of success.

A less original person would have given up a long time before that success occurred.

On the job front, originality is not always valued.

Most companies want to keep their originality confined to a couple of departments. If you work in engineering or advertising departments then originality, up to a point, may be valued. Be careful about being too original if you work in a shipping department.

Highly original people tend to migrate to occupations and to places that encourage originality. Universities and colleges can afford to foster some level of originality because they incubate the original people for the next generation.

Countries that encourage originality find the highly innovative people migrate there. They also get stuck with a lot of dissidents who want to change the very things that brought them there.

In the arena of originality versus ordinary, you have to take the bad with the good. I for one would prefer to be more original but not everyone in my life sees it that way.

Which works best in your life, originality or being ordinary?

Related articles

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

When Mindfulness makes you feel worse – about pain.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Back pain

Coping with pain.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

What are you doing to avoid feeling pain?

The question came up in a discussion of mindfulness about people who feel unable to be mindful, to meditate, because every time they do they become overwhelmed by extreme pain.

What do you do if you would like to use some of these introspective self-examinations approaches but when you stop what you are doing, even for a moment, you begin to suffer from painful memories of the past?

Here is the dilemma.  I am not one to think that to have a happy life we need to excavate every trauma and pain you have experienced. I do in fact see times when cross-examining clients about past trauma can be harmful. The last thing I want to do in therapy is to re-traumatize someone who is suffering. But there is value to cleaning out the wreckage of the past.

One recovery saying that often rings true is “we are only as sick as our secrets.” Lots of dysfunctional behavior, substance abuse, excessive spending, sexual addictions, and other compulsions are ways of trying to avoid having to feel those feelings which are so unpleasant.

Depression, PTSD, anxiety and a whole host of mental and emotional problems are also maintained by wounds from the past that have not healed.

We know that if you are feeling physical pain, just ignoring that pain is not a good idea. Athletes can sustain long-term injuries if they do not listen to their body and stop playing when they are in pain.

My take on this is that if when you try to meditate or be mindful and all that comes up is an overwhelming pain, you need to seek professional help to process and work through that pain. Otherwise, you are at high risk to keep running from the pain until one day your escape mechanism stops working.

Plenty of alcoholics and addicts will tell you that one day their drug of choice stopped working. Any effort to deny the pain can only work for so long and then eventually you will have to face the problem you have been running from.

Drugs and alcohol are common ways of trying to escape feelings but there are others. Using drugs in this way is a very dangerous habit. The relief from the pain is short-lived. When the drugs wear off the pain returns, only now it feels even more overwhelming. So you use again. The intervals between uses get shorter and the amount you need to use gets larger and there you are one day at your upper limit and still feeling the emotional pain.

Most of us are not good at reading our body sensations. We humans often confuse thirst and hunger, resulting in consuming excess calories and weight gain. We also confuse physical and emotional pain. Physical pain may be managed by medication but emotional pain, most of the time you need to feel it, in a safe environment, in order to heal it.

 

America is currently facing an epidemic of prescription drug abuse.

One reason for this abuse is that people are using prescription pain medications, designed to treat physical pain, for treating emotional pain. The short-term relief results in long-term addiction. If you describe your pain to the doctor as all over in your body he may prescribe medication. If you tell the truth that you have felt this way since you lost your job or partner, the prescription will be some counseling.

The technical term for this is prescription drug abuse. It is easy to get addicted. Pills are quick and easy. They work for a while, then the pills create other problems like addiction. Counseling takes time but it helps you recover.

Mindfulness is meant to help with this, but it can be hard to just sit and stay with a pain for a while and really find out what this pain is all about. Sometimes we need to work on this emotional pain a little at a time.

I have heard this approach to reducing emotional pain described as “peeling the feelings onion.” You peel off a little, tell your helper about what you are feeling and why then you cry. When the crying is done go back to the peeling. Repeat until all the pain is peeled away.

If you find that when you are alone or you try to clear your mind the only things that race in are those old memories of pain and hurt then you need to start healing those old wounds.

We humans have a bad habit of continuing to hold onto negative emotions long after those emotions have had any benefit. Not being able to release stress or regret can keep the torture of the past alive long after the incident should have been forgotten.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.