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Managing Grief

Managing Grief

There isn’t consensus in the scientific community about whether Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief is rooted in empiricism. Although much vaunted in popular culture, if you’ve experienced grief and resolved it in your own way, you’ll know that grief is an organic process that is by no means neat or orderly. It’s deeply unique to each individual, and this article is designed to hopefully help you through whatever loss you have experienced in the recent past.

The five stages of grief, which Kubler-Ross first postulated that terminally ill patients experience are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Denial in this context encapsulates a perfectly normal response to a tragedy, and is exactly what you would imagine – it’s simply a refusal to believe that “this bad thing is happening to me”. After reality sets in, and the sobering realisation that the tragedy has occurred is impossible to ignore, Kubler-Ross observed that people often display frustration, which culminates in Anger. Once that Anger has dissipated, people often move on to Bargaining, which is the hope that they can somehow extricate themselves from their dire straits and obtain the balm of a different circumstance. Notwithstanding the success of the earlier bargain, Depression follows, which is self-explanatory. The final stage of Acceptance is the sanguine realisation that nothing will change their situation.

If you are currently going through your own grief and taken a step back to evaluate how you are processing it, you might have noticed some incongruencies between the model and your experience. That’s perfectly natural because there has been some criticism levelled at the Kubler-Ross model in that there is confusion over description and prescription. This means you shouldn’t take it as a rule, no, or feel inadequate or “bad” that you aren’t “properly” grieving. We hope that what follows in this article will provide you with some breathing room to let your grief take its own course, and helps you handle a tragedy with the right tools.

Grief is a loss. It’s your prerogative to define what grief is to you, and even something as banal as losing a cherished item from your childhood can precipitate feelings of loss. So, you shouldn’t wall up these feelings behind what society has proscribed as appropriate. We’re talking about you here, not anyone else. It bears repeating that your grief is unique because of a multitude of factors, for those of you who don’t want to accept that it is your right to give yourself the breadth to grieve – your upbringing, your culture, your faith, your parents, the list is endless. So give pause and slip into your own rhythm of grieving.

To help ensure that you do not slip into the common fallacies that can disrupt your grieving process, we’re going to list some of the pitfalls that ensnare people and prevent therapeutic processing of grief. 

1) If you don’t show an outward display of grief such as crying, you aren’t “sad”

Just like the shortcomings of Kubler-Ross’ model, while crying is seen as a “socially acceptable” way of demonstrating sadness, it isn’t applicable to everyone. You may have been brought up to avoid tears at all costs, perhaps due to tough parenting or some childhood trauma, or you may not wish to “affect” others with your grief. No matter the reason, you should know that physiological responses to grief vary widely depending on your circumstances. Shock, numbness, anger, even hysterical laughter – just about anything is permissible in the initial, very private stages of your grief. 

2) If you don’t “get over it” within an “acceptable timeframe”, you aren’t good enough

Although your family members or people in your community may react to and resolve their grief earlier than you, you need to know that it is by no means healthy to affect the fragility of such a process by introducing the pressures of comparison. Some people simply have better coping-skills than others or are more inured to unhealthy thought processes that hold them back from the therapeutic management of their grief.

3) You feel like you need to “protect” loved ones from your grief, so you turn inwards

We keep emphasizing that grief is individual to everyone – this should tell you that there is no circumscription to how you handle it. Even though it might feel selfish to display your feelings openly because you think less emotionally able loved ones shouldn’t have to deal with your pain, remember that there is nothing shameful about the old adage, “Shared joy is double, shared sorrow is halved”. 

There are some simple coping mechanisms that you can use to help yourself through the process. Although the low mood is a given after the heartache of a tragedy or loss, and you might not feel willing or able to pick yourself up and carry on, remind yourself of the wisdom of eating and sleeping right. Drugs and drink might seem the most accessible ways to insulate yourself from poor mood, but these indulgences, in the long run, are hindrances to sustaining your mental well-being.

If you feel like the person you have lost needs to be remembered, you can do so in the solitude of creative expression, or you can choose to gather loved ones to laugh about cherished memories. If there’s one scenario where laughter in the face of loss is wholly acceptable – here it is! Whether communal or solitary, there are many ways you can raise someone up in loving memory – honouring them and helping yourselves. 

Find solace in your old routines. If you’re hurting after the failure to gain acceptance into a school of your choice, it may help to remember all the things you did well before that gave your life meaning and structure. At the worst of times, it helps to fall back on old patterns if only to hang on to some stability.

Lastly, know that there is a difference between clinical depression and the normal response to grief. You should be aware of critical signs or symptoms in both yourself and your loved ones that may indicate depression. For example, if you notice that your loved one isn’t eating or sleeping properly after a long period of time, or is displaying reckless tendencies such as driving dangerously or overindulgence in addictions, it may be time to seek professional help. Although many people can get through grief without the help of a mental health professional, when it all gets too heavy to handle, you may consider seeking grief therapy. Some of our clinicians are specifically trained in grief therapy, such as Joachim Lee or Winifred Ling.

 


Photo by Claudia Wolff on Unsplash

COVID-19 AND ADDICTION – RECOVERY USING ONLINE THERAPY

COVID-19 AND ADDICTION – RECOVERY USING ONLINE THERAPY

Author : Andrew da Roza

COVID-19 has posed a challenge to everyone, and those more physically vulnerable in our community clearly need our care and attention. 

There are also people whose mental vulnerability deserves equal care.

Mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and addictions are exacerbated by a pandemic crisis in multiple ways. 

Collective family and community fears are (in themselves) contagious; and the constant bombardment of medical and financial bad news, can leave those with mental illnesses lost in a cascade of negative rumination and catastrophising. 

The mentally ill and people with addictions commonly have compromised immune systems, and suffer stress or substance, tobacco and alcohol abuse related diseases – leaving them wide open to severe pneumonia with acute respiratory distress symptoms – and other complications from COVID-19. 

Isolation, separation and loneliness – caused by working at home and social distancing – are perhaps the worst contributors to: low mood; agitation; irrational fears; moments of panic; self-disgust; resentment; anger; and even rage.

People whose ability to pause, use reason and find practical solutions can be severely compromised. They may find themselves bereft of the motivation, and ability to engage in even the simplest tasks of self-care. 

Added to this, listlessness, boredom and frustration can lead to despair. Then self-harm and suicidal thoughts may arise, take hold, and even overwhelm them.

Those in recovery or active addiction may also turn to their compulsive and impulsive behaviours of choice, to sooth and find momentary respite from the moods and thoughts that have hijacked their mind. Triggers, urges and cravings may become relentless and unbearable. 

The solution may begin with finding a way out of isolation. 

Starting the journey out of this darkness can start with talking to people who can demonstrate unconditional positive regard, show kindness and compassion, and help reframe the situation. Such people can assist those suffering to put a name to and validate their emotions. 

In short – therapy can help!

In times of COVID-19, working with a therapist via teleconsultation can be effective using ZOOM, Skype, WhatsApp video and FaceTime. 

Although the calming and soothing sensation of the physical presence of a therapist is absent, for those in isolation – distraught with shame and despair – Internet enabled therapy can prove a lifeline.   

Isolation can be further broken, using similar Internet methods, by attendance in recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous – all of whom now hold Zoom meetings in Singapore. 

These Zoom opportunities in Singapore are supplemented by Zoom, Skype and telephone conference meetings in Hong Kong and Australia (in Singapore’s time zone) and in the U.K. and the US (during our mornings and evenings).             

Having broken the isolation, the second step therapists can provide is guidance and motivation towards self-care. This would include tapering or abstinence from the addictive substances or behaviour. A well thought through relapse intervention and prevention plan, specifically tailored to a person’s triggers, will also assist.

Triggers may be particular places, situations, people, objects or moods. 

The acronym “HALT” is often used by those in recovery; which stands for the triggers of being: Hungry; Angry; Lonely; or Tired.

When these triggers arise, people are encouraged to 

  • HALT their behaviour; 
  • breathe deeply, with long outward breaths;
  • think through consequences;
  • think about alternatives;
  • consult with others; and
  • use healthy tools to self-soothe.      

Daily mindfulness, meditation, exercise, sleep hygiene, healthy eating and following a medication regime are important aspects of self-care – and for some suffering mental illness – these actions – and time – may be all they need to find their footing again.

Luckily, the Internet gives a vast array of possible self-care options, including things to distract us, soothe us and improve us. 

Everything is available from: calming sounds and music; guided meditations; games; home exercise, yoga and tai chi; self-exploration and improvement videos; video chats with loved ones; to healthy food delivery options. They can all be had with a few keystrokes. 

Today we live at a time when suffering from mental illness and addictions is commonplace. But we also live at a time when the solutions are literally at our fingertips – if we only reach out for them. 

For information on teleconsultation for addiction therapy and addiction recovery meetings, contact:  Andrew da Roza at Promises Healthcare by email to andrew@promises.com.sg or by calling the Promises Healthcare clinic at: (+65) 6397 7309 

 

   

 

Dual Diagnosis: Anxiety and Substance Use Disorder

Dual Diagnosis: Anxiety and Substance Use Disorder

Anxiety, stress, and fear are common emotions people experience through the course of everyday life.  Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, go beyond our daily worries and fears. Stress and pressure is subjective to each person – anxiety disorders can induce heavy stress and pressure, and these feelings can become more intense over time. Issues that crop up for anxiety disorder sufferers range from anodyne to hair-raising. For example, some people are terrified of meeting new people and having to interact with strangers, while others suffer panic attacks when memories of past traumas surface. The most common types of anxiety disorders are diagnosed as:

  • Panic Disorder (PD)
  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
  • Agoraphobia (Perception of certain environments as unsafe, with no easy escape)
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Not only are there psychological symptoms, people dealing with anxiety disorders may also experience a litany of physical symptoms such as insomnia; inability to concentrate or relax; heart palpitations; gastroenterological issues; and sexual frustration, among others. When all these problems start impinging on one’s behaviour, mood and thoughts, life can start to feel like a slog through quicksand. A once “normal life” now appears out of reach, and getting there again can feel like a Sisyphean task.

What makes people suffering from an anxiety disorder seek out substances?

It’s important to understand a little more about addiction before dealing with this question. Addiction is indubitably a very uncomfortable disorder, and that’s characterising it mildly. For a “preference” to devolve into full blown addiction, a person must keep making the same conscious decisions every day, day after day, that facilitate  indulgence in his or her vice – in spite of a mounting cornucopia of problems. Maintaining an addiction certainly is tiresome. People suffering from addiction make these choices because their addiction serves them a purpose. Concomitant discomfort is tolerated in light of perceived benefits garnered from substance abuse.

A parsimonious way to think about addiction is to assume that it is a simple cost-benefit analysis. For someone struggling with an anxiety disorder, the allure of a “quick-fix” in the form of a suitable drug or drink is hard to ignore. What may begin as a misguided attempt to ameliorate paralysing fear can eventually develop into a fully-fledged addiction. With this in mind, it is now a lot clearer why substance use disorder (SUD) is a co-occurring psychiatric disorder that is one of the most prevalent among people with an anxiety disorder. The most recent and largest comorbidity study to date (with over 43,000 participants), the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), found that 17.7% of respondents with an addiction problem also had an anxiety disorder.

Ironically, the problem with the “solution” of substance abuse is that the ”solution” hurts more than helps. It can often exacerbate the anxiety disorder – which becomes ensnared in the convoluted mess that is addiction. Thus comes the slippery slope of anxiety, substance use, and elevated tolerance.

Chronic dependence is the likely consequence of this chain of events. For example, a person who suffers from social phobia might employ stimulants or anxiolytics to engender artificial confidence during a social situation. This can feel liberating, exhilarating, even, for someone who has spent a lifetime on the sidelines. The folly in this endeavour lies in the eventual normalising of this ‘chemically induced courage’ – if you turn it into a precondition to interacting with other human beings, you will only succeed in erecting progressively more imposing barriers in a completely self-defeating, tautological situation.

Are there psychotherapies out there that treat anxiety and addiction together?

Diagnosing a mental disorder in a person who also suffers from an addiction is challenging.

It may be hard to determine which came first, the addiction or the anxiety/depression. A clinical history, which is triangulated with loved ones, teachers and others may assist to know which came first. In any case, both the addiction and the disorders have to be treated at the same time. Otherwise, if untreated, the anxiety and depression may lead to the resumption of drug or alcohol use.  Cognitive behavioural therapies (CBT), meditation and mindfulness therapies, experiential therapies and medication can assist to address both compulsive behaviour and anxiety and depressive disorders.

A trained and experienced mental health professional can help you navigate your addiction recovery journey to ensure that you get the best possible outcome within the guidelines of your values and needs. While this article is about substance addiction, you will find that our team of psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists have the expertise and experience to work with a variety of addictions, and mental health issues such as anxiety disorders.

Living with a Sex Addict – Pt. 1

Living with a Sex Addict – Pt. 1

My partner says his sexual behavior is normal – but he is hiding it and I know something is wrong. Am I crazy? What are the signs of compulsive sexual behavior disorder?

Partners of people with sexual compulsivity often come to the clinic in great distress.

They have just learned about the latest infidelity, daily Internet porn use, visits to Orchard Towers, massage parlors or KTV lounges. The images accidently left on the family computer may be shocking or alarming.   

Perhaps they have discovered condoms in the person’s luggage after a business trip, unexplained expenses on their credit cards, and unexplained absences from their hotel rooms late at night when they tried to call the person. Childrens’ birthdays, graduations and family celebrations may be mysteriously abandoned for “essential” business trips.

Partners may notice strange messages or nude photos on the mobiles; or perhaps odd phone calls at night, that seem to make the person excited or embarrassed. They may come home intoxicated at 3:00 am, after a night out with colleagues, with unexplained credit cards slips in their pockets for hundreds or thousands of dollars. They may find an STI clinic report.   

The person acting out will likely try to vigorously “manage” all this fallout with their partners.  

They may rationalize, minimize, intellectualize, normalize – or simply lie, to explain away all this overwhelming cumulative evidence. They may “gaslight” their partner, making them think they are crazy.

And it may work…for a time.

Meanwhile partners may feel: shocked; rejected; confused; angry, even rageful; anxious; and depressed. They may even blame themselves and feel inadequate as a partner and  ashamed.

They may: become irritable, angry or overly anxious with their children; stop doing things they enjoyed, stop seeing people; forego self-care and grooming; or try to become overly sexual and breach their own boundaries to save the relationship.

They may become sleepless, without appetite and lose weight – or over eat and gain weight; and they may use medication and alcohol to numb their emotional pain. They may keep getting flus and colds that refuse to go away; or chronic backaches and neck aches that make sleep or activities painful.

The shame may be crushing.

Some partners may have experienced earlier traumas in their own childhood or adulthood, in which emotional and sexual or other physical abuse, neglect and rejection were prevalent.  The acting out person’s behavior may therefore trigger strong trauma reactions, and lead to bonded relationship traumas, resulting in self-harm or even attempted suicide.

How can a partner respond when they get a feeling something is not quite right?

If they can persuade the person acting out to undertake a clinical assessment, the person will be able to understand that their behavior has become a serious self-destructive compulsion, and that they need treatment.

Even if the person won’t attend therapy, the partner can take an assessment of the extent of their trauma, and the role of the person acting out. The partner can then receive sex addiction treatment, and explore the options for the family. Do they stay or go?

Promises Healthcare Pte Ltd. provides therapy for both those with compulsive sexual behavior and their partners, so that together they can find a way out of their suffering and plan a better future for their families.  

Living with a Sex Addict – Pt. 2

Living with a Sex Addict – Pt. 2

“My partner’s sexual behaviour has left me devastated – should I stay or should I go?”

Many clients come to therapy wondering whether they should leave or stay, after they have discovered their partner’s infidelity, or other compulsive sexual behavior. This may include a combination of: serial affairs at work; Internet pornography; sexual massages; use of sex workers; and use of anonymous dating Apps. Excessive alcohol, drugs and workaholism may also be involved.  

Even though the behavior is intolerable or very risky, and causing great suffering – there may often seem compelling reasons to stay.

Young children may be involved. If the acting out partner has been a “good enough” parent, the children will suffer greatly if they leave. Further, the burden of parenting the children alone may seem too much.

The client may worry about the family finances – that they may not be able to support themselves and their children if the partner withholds money or does not agree to split the money appropriately.

The client may have to return to their country of origin and may not be able to bring the children with them, if their partner contests this.

Leaving may cause the client great shame, particularly with their family, friends and work colleagues.

The client may fear loneliness; or may ardently fantasize that things will get back to the way they were – eventually. After all, the couple may have a long, shared history, and may have weathered many other difficulties together.

Starting with a new relationship in future may be as daunting as living alone forever.

Some clients may be so angry and resentful, that leaving may seem like the partner getting away it. Leaving may appear like giving the partner a license to continue their intolerable behavior – unchecked and unavenged. It may result in the partners frittering the family money away.

Friends and family may be unhelpful – full of directive and conflicting advice.  Clients may be ashamed, or too anxious of the reaction they will receive to even share about their suffering.

However, some clients are unaware that there may be a solution to sex addiction.

If the partner is assessed for a compulsive sexual behavior disorder and subsequently undertakes recovery; and the client works in therapy on taking care of themselves; learning and growing from the experience; and improving their relationship – there may still be hope in keeping the family together.

Ultimately, both need to work on themselves and the relationship, if it is to be saved.

But the first step may just be contacting a professional to seek help.

Promises Healthcare Pte. Ltd. provides support for both the partner and the person suffering from compulsive sexual behavior and can help the couple to work on the solution.