Sunday, August 7, 2011

Parents, Talk to Your Kids


Talk to them about drugs and alcohol.

Do it before I have to do it for you.

As a substance abuse and addictions specialist, this is always the time of year that worries me the most for your kids – going back to school. Every year, I see a rise in referrals for adolescent substance abuse, especially from schools that catch kids using or in possession of substances. It’s the time of year when friends reunite, stress and anxiety are on the rise, and kids look to find a new or unique way to deal with their stress. Add that to the growing pharmacy-like status of many of our local high schools, middle school, and sadly even our elementary schools, and you have a recipe for disaster.

But you can stop it before it even starts.

It starts with you talking to your child(ren) about drugs and alcohol, and your expectations.

And you can never start too early. Your 6-year-old is curious why they see messages on tv and on billboards that tell them drugs are “bad”, but that you have a beer or glass of wine at dinner. It’s OK to explain the differences between occasionally drinking, and using too much. In fact, it’s critical that you answer their questions honestly and openly, so that there is no “mystery”. Mystery causes kids to want to explore. Exploration of drugs and alcohol, at any age, can lead to trouble. But honesty and openness at home, early in your child’s life, can clear up that mystery and diffuse any need or desire to explore.

If you missed out on those conversations with your child, it is OK to start when they are a teen. It’s important that you share your expectations about their behavior when it comes to drugs and alcohol. It’s critical for you to educate them on the hazardous effects of marijuana, alcohol, prescription pills, and all the other drugs that are readily available to them. Let them know that you understand the difficulties of peer pressure, but that you are there to help. Let them know that you even though you are their parent, and not their best-friend, you are still someone they can confide in. Be open and honest about your message on drugs and alcohol. If you don’t, their friends surely will. And the message they give your child may not be the message you want them to receive.

It really starts with a conversation, no matter how old your child is. If they are younger, wait for them to start the conversation. If they are older, you MUST start the conversation with them. Either way, have that conversation, talk to them about it.

Don’t leave it up to me. If they make it to my office for a conversation on drugs or alcohol, it’s not for a good reason. It’s because they were arrested. It’s because they were caught at school and expelled. Or it’s because you already found paraphernalia in their room and don’t know what to do.

You can prevent all of these outcomes by starting a conversation.

Next week, I will write more about how to keep your child safe from drugs. This week, have a conversation.

If you’re how to start that conversation, you can look through previous articles on this website, or download the upcoming free book on the new website (should be live this week). I also encourage you to take a look at , where I am a featured writer; or , a website specially designed for parents.

Good luck.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rules for Fair Fighting

Disagreeing, arguing, debating, fighting, bickering, cold-shouldering, compromising, not compromising, call it what you will, it happens in every relationship. Fortunately.

That’s right, arguing is good for every relationship, as long as it is done “correctly” – it can improve the relationship, build consensus, and a focused shared goal in mind, as long as it doesn’t do permanent damage to the relationship.

So, everybody tap gloves, return to your respect corner, and come out swinging.

Here are the rules:

No verbal attacks. Name calling and personal insults will not solve the problem, but they will make it worse – for a long time. The person you are arguing with is NOT the “enemy”. Stick with the facts, and deal with the issue at hand. Although you may be at odds with each other during an argument, you and your partner are still a team. By not saying anything personally insulting you are safeguarding the interests of both of you for the future, rather than trying to win and score points personally.

Own your own feelings – also known as “no YOU statements”. “You” statements are the beginning of a personal attack, and often leave the other person defensive, resulting in another stalemate. What works better is making statements like “I feel …….. when you ……”. This shares the situation from your perspective, states your side of the argument, and is much easier for your partner to hear. Most importantly, it lets your partner know how their actions and behavior impact you – which brings you closer, helps build connection, and can lead to true understanding.

Stick to the point. No disagreement gets solved when ALL the disagreements and injustices from the past two years are brought in to the argument. Stick to the issue at hand, work through to a solution, and then let last year’s issues stay in last year until you have time to focus on it exclusively – you may find that you don’t need to bring it back up, but only use it for “ammunition” in other arguments. That’s cheating. When you focus on only one topic at a time, you can work to a solution and move on; but bringing up multiple old issues or injustices only drags the disagreement out, and will only end in a stalemate.

Be honest. Both partners have to commit to being honest and to the point in a disagreement. Nothing gets solved if you are avoiding the truth, only to let the issues surface again later. Be honest in taking responsibility for your flaws in the situation, and be honest in what you need or are asking for.

Know the difference between “Solvable Problems” and “Perpetual Problems”. Solvable problems like Who Takes Out the Trash and Where are We Spending the Holidays have a solution that can eventually be identified and agreed upon. Perpetual problems like She’s Christian but I’m Atheist or How Much Intimacy is Not Enough don’t have such an easy solution, but may be more emotionally charged. Perpetual problems take more time, care, and attention, and might benefit from professional intervention. Read more about Perpetual Problems in Gottman’s 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.

Keep it private. Not in front of the kids, or the neighbors, or with friends. It only makes the problem worse.

Keep it brief. Again, you are disagreeing with a friend, partner, or spouse; not an enemy. There is no logical reason to keep it going for days, unless your objective is to punish the one you care about.

Silent treatment / withholding affection & intimacy. Also cheating in a “fair fight”. This prolongs the disagreement, and makes for a new disagreement later on.

Time out. Even boxers get a time out every few minutes. If the argument gets too heated, or if there isn’t a solution in sight, it’s time to take a break. There is nothing wrong with taking a 30 minute, or a 30 hour, break to cool down and think through the situation. Saying something like “This is too heated, can we talk about it in an hour?”, or “let’s get back to this tomorrow”, will help preserve the relationship, and give each side a chance to calm down and think through the situation.

Short, sweet, and to the point; not just this list, but also how your disagreements should be handled.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

YOU - The Operator's Manual

“To know oneself is to study oneself…” –Bruce Lee

“Know Thyself” – Socrates

The concept of paying attention to yourself, your thinking, your attitudes, your beliefs, and everything else about YOU is an idea that has been echoed by philosophers and deep thinkers throughout recorded time.

Last week, I wrote about how this one aspect of introspection is helpful in understanding and realizing the meaning in your life.

So how do you do it? It’s easier than you think. Here are a few ways you can the start the process of figuring out the complexities that are YOU.


Did you know the act of the breathing is the ONLY biological process that is both automatic AND under our control? Breathing takes care of itself when we are not paying attention to it, but we can also bring it under our conscious control when we want. The act of attending to our breathing and altering it can have a profound impact on our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health.

Taking 10-20 minutes each day to engage in deep breathing exercises can relieve anxiety, fight depression, and improve overall health. Deep breathing, meditation, and vocal toning can also give us those few minutes each day to look deeper within ourselves. The fast and simple explanation to do this: sit in a quiet place, set a simple timer that will wake you gently, close your eyes, breathe in through your nose for 7 seconds, breath out through your mouth for 8 seconds, repeat until timer goes off. It’s not easy at first, but it will get easier, as it does you will experience some interesting improvements.

For more on deep breathing and meditation, check out my friend, Sam Boys, book An Ancient Sound for the Present Moment , and look for his new tunes on this site in the next few weeks.


Thinking, somewhat like breathing, can be unconscious or automatic, as well as conscious and focused. Very often, sometimes too often, our unconscious thoughts, those that are the result of everything we take in around us, all the stimulation we experience both known and unknown, are the main focus of our conscious minds. When these unconscious thoughts spend too time in the forefront of our minds, we can experience confusions, disorientation, frustration, and a myriad of other negative experiences.

The answer; spend time in conscious thought. Pay attention to those things going on in your head. Look at what kind of unconscious stimulation enters your mind through the forces, of advertising, marketing, and all the other “noise” that goes on around us. Ponder the questions about YOU:

Who am I? What do / don’t I believe? Why do don’t I believe? Where have I been? What have I experienced? Where am I going? What do I want to accomplish? What is my legacy? Where do I want to be in 5 years? What am I doing to get there? How do my beliefs help me? How do my beliefs hinder me?

There are a lot more to ask yourself, but if you start with these, you might be interested to find out where these questions take you.


Turn off the continual stream of unconscious information entering in to your brain through television, radio, and internet, and focus on a conscious decision to put some particular, specific, and conscious information in your head. Take an active part in what goes in to your mind by doing the work of reading, and stop the flow of passive information – what other people want you to think – for a short time.

Even better, challenge yourself in your reading. If you find through “Thinking”, that you have a particular set of ideas, beliefs, or attitudes, read something that challenges them. If you want to learn more about yourself, pay attention to how you react to information that may differ from what you believe to be true. Are you Christian? Check out some of Richard Dawkins' work like The God Delusion. Evolutionary Theorist or Darwinist? Check out Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. Not sure what you believe yet, take a look at Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Whatever you decide to read, read. Take a look at all the information that enters into your mind from outside sources without your knowledge or will, and make a conscious effort to put something else in there. For more on that idea, I recommend Morgan Spurlock’s upcoming release POM Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.

There are many, many ways to learn about yourself. There are many, many more ways the outside world conspires to keep you from it. You have a choice. You can choose to consciously grow in a direction you design and implement; or you can grow in a way that Facebook, Fox, MSNBC, Coke, Pepsi, Nike, McDonald’s, et al. want you to grow.

(Disclaimer: all links in this article are Amazon affiliate links.  If you make a purchase using any of these links, Amazon pays A New Direction Counseling a percentage of the sale.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Meaning of Life

I think I had it figured out. I had the Meaning of Life in the palm of my hands, or in some deep recesses of my brain. And, of course, like all fleeting flashes of brilliance, it disappeared just as easily as it had appeared.

I don’t have the meaning of life ready for you today, but I’ve got some ideas that might help you figure it out for yourself.

I’ve been struck many of times over the past few weeks to evaluate and re-evaluate my life; who I am, what I do, where I am going.

Big birthdays, important anniversaries, family reunions, get-togethers with friends - just a few things that can cause you to stop to take notice.

It caused me to take some time to ponder some deep questions.

Sadly, it never ceases to amaze me how many people I know who say they don’t have time for that in their week. That life is too busy to take time for themselves. I used to feel sad for those people, until I realized I was one of them.

A famous philosopher once said something along the lines of, “an unexamined life is not worth living”…

Actually, it’s been quite a few philosophers, poets, writers, scientists, and psychologists who have said something along these lines over the past few thousand years of recorded history.

I think they may be on to something. And I think in our age of multiple distractions and plentiful “apps” to take you your time, we may be missing out on the simple act of spending time with our selves.

Do you take the time to think about your life?

Do you think about where you are, where you’ve been, and almost as importantly, where you are going?

Regardless of your religious, spiritual, political, or ethical beliefs, there is a lot of benefit to examining who you are, what you do, what you think and believe, WHY you think and believe, and where you are going.

Have you taken the time to do that lately?

Do you know how to go about the process?

I want to leave you this week with just the idea of taking some time to think about yourself, whatever that might mean to you. I am hopeful that just in drawing attention to the idea, maybe you will be attentive to whether or not you do it, and just how much time you might give to it. Take some time, even if it is only a few minutes each day, to think about YOU. Who are you? Where do you come from? Who are you today? Does it match who you thought you would be? Does it fit who you want to be? Are you “happy”? Just what the heck does “happy” mean?

There are a lot of questions you can ask yourself.

In the next article, I will share with you some other ideas in introspection and why it’s good for you.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Overcoming Adversity - Women's Style

I was fully prepared to share with you the “Meaning of Life” and all the extraneous information that goes along with solving that Great Mystery – I think I got it all figured out. But then the United States Women’s Soccer Team entered into my life and changed all that.

Actually, I’ve been paying fairly close attention to the team lately, as the Women’s World Cup has been happening in Germany over the past few weeks. It’s a pretty big deal. As a part-time soccer coach for young girls, I feel like it’s a REALLY big deal. I understand if you are not as excited. Not everyone gets in to the sport, but they have some pretty amazing lessons to share.

Did you see yesterday’s game?! It was pretty phenomenal. This National team has something to share with all of us about overcoming adversity.

Let me give you a brief synopsis of the team’s performance, and we will see what applies to the rest of us.

Within the first two minutes the Women’s Team scored on Brazil, a formidable foe – a soccer great. This is a virtually unheard of feat. In a game where 1-0 is a sufficient final score, our team was already up on the opponent with 88 minutes to go in the game.

Of course, things changed. Although, it didn’t happened until well into the second half. For 45 minutes, the entire first half, the team prevented the Brazilian’s from scoring with hard work and tenacity. For those of you doing the math, these women sprint the field back-and-forth, up-and-down, for 90 minutes total; most of them play the entire game. Physical and mental fitness is a prerequisite.

Around the 70th minute, well into the second half, and almost within reach of the prize – moving on to the semifinals – the Brazilian’s scored on a series that will be contested for quite a while. In all honesty, it was garbage. The referees banished one of the American players from the game on a “questionable” call, and awarded a free shot on goal to the opposition. The room was tense. The American’s would have to play the rest of the game with one less player as consequence for the foul she committed, and the Brazilian’s were awarded with a free shot at the goal.

The Brazilian player stood in front of the ball, staring through it and looking to intimidate the American goalie. The American goalie warmed up, jumped, danced, and attempted to prognosticate where the shot was going to go. The Brazilian player struck the ball. It zoomed towards the right upper corner. The American goalie dove skyward towards to point of attack and punched the ball out of range – IT WAS A SAVE!!!

BUT WAIT….. NOOOOO! ANOTHER BAD CALL!!! The referee decided that the American goalie had moved to early awarded the Brazilian’s another attempt at a free score!! Another botched call!!! (not my words, but even the objective foreign announcers!) The American goalie had saved the day, but now she had to face her foe again, on a call that was quite obviously WRONG and UNFAIR.

Of course, the Brazilian striker achieved the next goal.

Game tied 1-1.

The game goes into overtime, as so many of our struggles in life do.

Minutes in to overtime, The Brazilians score on what seems to be ANOTHER BAD CALL (again, admitted by the objective commentator, AS WELL as the group this writer was watching with). The American Team just can’t catch a break. They are working harder than the other team, they are doing more, but nothing is going their way.

Game score 2-1, in favor of the opposition. America’s hopes of advancing to the semi-finals seems all but hopeless. The first half of overtime is finished. The Women of the American team have been sprinting for 105 minutes of intense battle. They continue on into the 2nd half of overtime. They do battle for 14 ½ minutes of extra-effort; for a total of 119 ½ minutes of sprinting, juking, dribbling, and shooting. By now, it seems hopeless. The hope for another World Cup Championship (our first since 1999) are all but over. The announcers know it to be true, the fans know it to be true, and the crowd at the stadium know it to be true.

Apparently, the United States Women’s National Soccer Team didn’t think it was true. They played on.

With less the 30 seconds to go in the game, the women running doggedly around the field, trying to break through the defense of the opposition, they FINALLY come up with THE PLAY!!! From across the field the striker hopefully blasts the ball into scoring position and YES it is headed into the goal by another AMERICAN PLAYER!!! GOAL!!!!!!! The crowd erupts!! THE GAME IS TIED!!! Less than seconds to go and the Americans have rescued their hopes from the ashes of defeat!!! It is a finale to defy the ages!!

Of course, there is more to come. With the score tied, the opponent and, apparently, the referees , out to see their demise, the American Women enter a shoot-out. One on one, shooter against goalie. One by one, the American’s shoot at the Brazilian goalie and score. One by one, the Brazilian shooters strike at the American goalie and score. All except one. In a brilliant display of individual effort, the American goalie forecasts where the shooter will try to place the ball, she lunges out to deflect and makes just enough contact to push away from the goal. The American Women WIN THE GAME IN A SHOOT OUT!!!!!

One of the most spectacular wins in any sport. Ever. Did you see it? It’s OK, not many people did. The team moves on to the Semi-Finals this Wednesday. But more importantly, their victory has a lot to do with you.

Have you ever fought a battle against insurmountable odds?

Have you ever felt like, no matter how hard you tried, no matter what you did was met with resistance from not only the foreseeable opponent, but also from opposition far outside your control?

Did you ever feel like even the authority figures in your life who are supposed to make things “fair” are out to get you?

Did you ever feel like no matter how hard you sprint, how hard you trained, how hard you worked, that you weren’t going to be victorious?

Did you come through to victory? Did you win?

Battles like this happen in each of our lives every day. Our training, our planning, the work we do, and the support we have in our team; all factors in what pulls us through.

If you feel your life is out of control and you can’t get it back on track, there is hope.

If you feel your marriage is unable to be saved; that you can’t work hard enough to make it right, it can improve.

If you think your situation is impossible to overcome, that you cannot achieve victory, you are wrong. You can pull victory out of the clutches of defeat. The American Women’s National Soccer Team has shown us tenacity and grace in the jaws of futility. Emulate that tenacity and grace in your life.

Hope is THE factor that can pull us through. Combine hope, belief, and faith with a tenacity to see the situation through to victory and YOU WILL win.

Find your hope. Do the hard work of training. Find your team.

See yourself through to victory.

After watching that game, I believe it may be as simple as that.

If you need help, there are plenty of ‘coaches’ out there. If you need a team, there are people who are willing to work with you. Don’t do it alone.

Photo Credit : AP image / Jens Meyer

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day Every Day

Barbeques, fireworks, back-yard bashes, friends and family – today we celebrate the gift our forefathers gave us with their blood, sweat, and hard work.

Because of their bravery, struggles, and sacrifice, we have been blessed with the ideal of equality, and that we have be endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

And because of the hard work and dedication of the men and women of our Armed Forces, we are afforded the opportunity to exercise these rights, responsibilities, and freedoms every day.

How do you exercise your independence every day? Do you allow yourself the freedom to make the choices, or are you taxed by your own history, or past poor decisions?

Do you live your life according to an understanding of your self, and who you are; or are you burdened by the circumstances of your past, your childhood, or your family?

Are you living an active and healthy lifestyle, or are you taxed by excess weight and unhealthy eating habits?

Do you enjoy the freedom and blessing of a rewarding and enjoyable career, or are you bogged down with “having to go work” and stressed with the idea of returning to work for The Boss after every holiday?

Are you free to feel, act, and think in healthy and creative ways, or are you taxed by depression, anxiety, stress, or over-medication?

The list could go on; but it is up to you to consider. Do you enjoy the blessings our forefathers fought to bestow upon us in every way you can, or are there areas that you could improve? Just as the Patriots of the American Revolution fought to improve their lives and their situations, it is up to you today do to the same thing.

Monday, June 27, 2011

America, We have a Problem

…And by the looks of it, it is out of control. Sadly, this graphic is not a surprise to me. I see the repercussions of this situation all too often. It is a huge frustration, and a constant source of extra work I have to do in my office before I am able to truly help someone.

Let me tell you a little bit about what this chart represents, and why it’s a problem.  Take a closer look here, as you might not catch all the details.

As you can see at the top, in the year this data represents, 2009; “doctors wrote more psychiatric prescriptions than there are people in this country.” Apparently, we all need a pill to set our minds right.

On the lower left, you will notice that $4.5 billion was spent on pharmaceutical advertising in 2009. $4.5 BILLION!!! Why do you think that is? It is estimated that the alcohol industry ‘only’ spends an estimated $750 million each year. If these drugs are meant to be selected and offered only in very specific situations, why should they be marketed so heavily? SO YOU WILL BUY THEM.

If you look to the right of the chart, you see the list of what these substances are meant to treat – EACH ONE of those diagnoses have been found through empirical scientific research to respond best with a COMBINATION of medication and some form of talk therapy (except fibromyalgia, which has pain management therapy), but how many of the people receiving these prescriptions receive a referral for the help they require to get better?

In fact, anxiety, depression, “panic”, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and PTSD can reach a point of improvement through psychotherapy, within a relatively short amount of time; less than 1 year in most cases, that medication CAN BE DISCONTINUED. Yet, all too often patients are kept on medication far past a year, long after the positive effects have lost their strength.

The facts that really drive me up the wall, the ideas that really just push my buttons and just tick me off: the three substances used for “A” and “P” – anxiety and panic. If you are being treated for these diagnoses, or know somebody who is, please take a moment to read my rant on it.

Anxiety and panic disorder medications – Xanax, Ativan, and Valium are CONTRA-INDICATED for the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders. That means they have been proven NOT to work time and time again. So much so, that not only can you find it in medical, psychiatric, and psychological journals, but in undergraduate level textbooks – the one form of documentation slowest to change! All the research and teaching states that these medications DO NOT WORK to treat anxiety and panic, so why are they two out of the top three mediations prescribed nationally?!

Panic and anxiety are best treated using a variety of thought changing techniques to alter patterns of behavior and the client’s anxious/panic reactions. Have you ever tried one of these substances? For most people, it is difficult to HAVE a thought while under the influence of these, much less work on changing thoughts. These substances act by numbing the entire central nervous system, brain to spinal cord, often freeing the patient from anxiety by making them unconscious, or so sleepy they can’t think straight. This is not a “treatment”, it is knocking the person out so that they don’t worry.

Just like any substance we use over extended periods of time, our body builds up a tolerance to these substances. The effectiveness at the begin doseage wears off, so that the patient needs more to have the same effect. Over years, this becomes extremely dangerous, and has the potential to turn in to addiction.

There are so many “other” and “better” opportunities to help these situations, we don’t have to be a nation of drug users.

If you are receiving medication for any of the concerns listed on this chart, make sure you are talking to your doctor about when to get off the medication – none of these should be a life-sentence. Better yet, if you or anyone you know is taking these meds, talk about the idea of getting help outside of the pill.