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The Downside of Sobriety: The 6 Things No One Tells You Might Happen If You Quit Drinking

Marilyn Spiller

Marilyn Spiller

I know, I know, this website is called “Recovery Connection” and it is designed to encourage those who are suffering the slings and arrows of addiction to get help. It is also an educational tool for addiction professionals and those in recovery, and I am here to tell you I had some unexpected lessons to learn when I became sober.

From the Recovering Alcoholic’s Perspective

You’re probably not going to hear this anyplace else, so I should get some points for candor, even though it is certainly controversial to talk about the negative aspects of something so overwhelmingly positive.

I share my experience because I do not want others to be blindsided like I was. Sobriety is not all roses and reggae, after all, and those who are in a position to help, will always stress the indisputable fact that being clear-headed is better than being a drunk.

Let me start by saying I actually thought my life would be picture-perfect if I quit drinking. I expected to stroll along like St Francis of Assisi, with sparrows trilling on my toned shoulders, small woodland animals scampering at my pedicured feet, a beatific smile, a celestial beam of light and a triumphant, musical “Waaaah” in my wake…

Perhaps I was naive.

As it turns out, I gained twenty pounds, lost all my frenetic energy and discovered I had been self-medicating a host of co-occurring disorders and syndromes which needed to be addressed. Understandably, I was disappointed and more than a little depressed.

I Am Not Alone

I have since learned I am not alone in experiencing this phenomenon. 65% of all those in recovery gain weight, and if you struggle with an alcohol problem, there’s a strong chance you may also be fighting anxiety, depression, mood swings or compulsive behavior. These unanticipated obstacles to wellbeing have the capacity to derail an otherwise smooth sailing recovery. I am very happy and grateful to be two years sober, but I wish I’d known then, what I know now.

The Downside of Sobriety

  1. 1. Weight Gain – Are you kidding me? I assumed that if I stopped consuming 3,000 wine calories a day, I’d look like a super-model. Not so. When I was drinking, I had no appetite for food and I did not develop the skills necessary to eat and live healthily. When I got sober, I got hungry. I ate sugary and fast foods as a “treat” for not drinking. Add to that, the fact my body was trying to heal from neglect and stored everything I consumed like I was a starving, and you have a recipe (pun intended) for diet disaster.
  2. Transfer Addictions – Fish gotta swim… It was like my body was looking for a new addiction: coffee, candy (see above), romance. Addiction is not all about the drugs or alcohol; there are underlying causes and reasons we overindulge. The brain chemistry is similarly affected by a host of “pleasures” we crave and I was exhibiting some of the same isolating, antisocial behavior I had shown with my alcoholism.
  3. Lack of Energy – What happened to all that crazy energy? As a problem drinker, it was nothing for me to get a couple hours of sleep after dancing all night and rise at dawn to sweep the front porch or alphabetize cans in the pantry. I learned that heavy drinking boosts levels of acetate ( a chemical found in vinegar) in the brain, that translates into extra energy for the body. Sobriety can make you tired.
  4. Muddled Thinking – Huh? Brain damage is a common and potentially severe consequence of long term, heavy, alcohol consumption. Even mild to moderate drinking can adversely affect cognitive ability. I knew that, but what I didn’t anticipate was the frustration my muddled brain, unclear thinking and inability to prioritize would bring in early sobriety. Suddenly, I knew what I didn’t know. And it takes several months (or years) to reverse cognitive impairment.
  5. Co-Occurring Issues – Alcoholism and OCD and Depression, oh my! I have always thought my extreme desire for making origami, toilet paper points and my irritation when data is presented in graphs, were personal preferences. In fact, I discovered that I had several learning differences and a disorder or two, I had been self-medicating with a daily dose of Chardonnay.
  6. Insomnia and Nightmares – Perhaps to dream? When you drink booze, you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply for a short while, but alcohol reduces REM sleep. The more you drink, the more pronounced these effects. It is why I was an insomniac for years. The surprising thing about sleeping sober, was that it took a long time to experience the positive effects – I had trouble sleeping in early sobriety, a complete lack of dreams for a year, and afterwards I had terrifyingly vivid, drinking dreams.

I love being sober

There were a few times during the early days of my sobriety when I said aloud, “This is NOT FAIR,” and like the old song about potatoes and tomatoes, I just wanted to “call the whole thing off.” When I was standing in line at the drug store, sober but with an armful of candy, shaking my head and lying to the person in front of me, “Those kids and their junk food,” I felt a lot like I used to feel buying an armful of cheap, white wine at my local gas station. And when I couldn’t seem to get ready in time, or when my purse was a tangle of wadded keys and gum wrappers I felt so bereft. So alone.

But the indisputable fact is that being clear-headed is better than being a drunk. And like all things worth having, the high value of sobriety is worth the price of admission. Eat three small meals a day; avoid processed sugar and stalking your old boyfriend; take a morning shot of apple cider vinegar; exercise your body your brain and your patience; get to the root of your problems; drink Sleepy Time Tea and above all else, if you are an alcoholic:


The Vaughan Rule


Kassidy Vaughan

Kassidy Vaughan is an addict and thanks to being a TAM Scholarship winner, she is currently in treatment at New Beginnings. But that’s only part of her journey to get help. The rest of the road to get to where she is today is nothing short of a miracle. A miracle made possible by her mother, Christy Lynn Vaughan’s love and tenacity. A miracle so strong that if Kassidy completes her treatment and stays clean, could change the laws and open the doors in Texas to allow those with the disease of addiction to go to rehab rather than jail. If enacted, this law will be called the “Vaughan Rule” after Kassidy.

The Vaughan’s are from a small town called Corsicana, Texas. Corsicana is a part of Texas that believes they have no drug problems; drugs are only found in the big cities and mysteriously stop at the boundaries of, in this case, Corsicana. Drug courts, etc. are unheard of – you have a drug issue, you do hard jail time, period. Since Kassidy’s step-mother had cut her off from insurance, rehab wasn’t even a viable choice.

You see, Christy Lynn Vaughan worked five years for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in the second worst unit in Texas for men. She’d seen the signs of drug abuse, she knew all about it, but yet she didn’t see it in her daughter who was a functional addict – good in school and played sports and just seemed a little sleepy now and then. Like many of us when our child first displays signs of addiction, we want to hang their behavior on any star other than addiction. We want to believe that having taught our children the very real dangers of drugs would have stuck somewhere in their brain. Simply put, you just don’t want to believe it can happen to your child, but it happened in Corsicana, Texas to Kassidy Vaughan.

In early December, Kassidy’s boyfriend stopped by to give her a pack of cigarettes and then left immediately. Police patrolling the area thought this was suspicious activity and pulled her boyfriend over. Although he was taken to jail, he told the police that the drugs were Kassidy’s. The police went to Kassidy’s house and found drug paraphernalia, and she admitted to using in the past. They charged her with possession under 1 gram and child endangerment. CPS immediately followed the police and did drug tests on Kassidy, which were positive. She was told that she would be sent to Substance Abuse Felony Punishment (6-9 months incarceration, 3 month halfway house, followed by 1 year after care) and that her child must be removed from the house.

On Christmas Eve 2014, knowing that Kassidy was severely depressed and using heroin, Christy rushed her to the closest thing possible to a rehab she could find. They were told that out-patient rehab could best suit Kassidy’s disease of addiction. Her mother was astounded that this was their response to the illness of a young girl on heroin.

Kassidy’s only option was Substance Abuse Felony Punishment, a program her mother knew from being a prison nurse, was an awful place and had a very low success rate. Determined and driven, Christy researched the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website and found documentation that the SAFP was only 56% effective. She immediately wrote the Judge and Probation Officer in Kassidy’s case, giving them the statistics that she had found and begged them to send her to rehab (because at the time, Kassidy had already won the TAM Scholarship).

The Judge ruled that Kassidy would be allowed to go out of state to attend New Beginnings. He went on to tell her that if she completed the program successfully, the “Vaughan Rule” would be enacted.

Currently Kassidy has completed 30 days of New Beginnings and has been given an extension of 60 more days. Her current plan is to go into sober living once she has completed the rehab.
Christy Vaughan is now on a mission to bring drug awareness to Texas – watch out Texas!

Daniel Montalbano: A Victim of our Broken System

As told to Sherry by Barbara Theodosiou, Founder of “The Addict’s Mom”

Broken glass

My son, Daniel Francis Montalbano, passed away in April of 2015, at the age of 23. Daniel was diagnosed with Co-occurring Disorders: Mental Illness (MI), and Substance Use Disorder (SUD). These two deadly disorders are the source of much tragedy and heartache in Daniel’s short, troubled life, as he entered the cycle common to all who suffer with SUD, with or without a co-occurring mental illness: overdose, arrest, mandate to treatment, release, homeless, hospital, psychiatric commitment, jail… Unfortunately, the cycle ends in death if no progress is made in recovery, as my Daniel’s death manifests.

“Our community mental health systems, and our prison systems are broken,” according to Dr. Jeffrey Metzner, a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, at the University of Colorado School Of Medicine. The day before he drowned in a canal near my home in South Florida, he had walked out of his treatment center after an altercation with another resident. Because the treatment was a probation requirement, Daniel was terrified of being returned to jail where he had been assaulted by violent felons.

Daniel was my 2nd child, brother to Peter. Daniel was a chubby-cheeked, brown-eyed beautiful baby. I loved him as I do all of my children, with all of my heart. Nicole, my daughter, was born when Daniel was 2, and Alex, my fourth child, was born when Daniel was 9. Our precious and peaceful time together was limited, however, when Daniel toddled off to school, bright, and eager to learn. At school, Daniel was ostracized and bullied. He was exceptionally intelligent, however, his social skills were immature and he had difficulty coping with the behavior of his peers. He was the last one chosen to play on a team, he sat alone at the lunch table, and he was disliked by his peers. Daniel was the child who sat on the bench in organized sports, dressed in his uniform, but never permitted to play in the game. One day, I witnessed a boy throw Daniel against the wall at school, with the teacher turning her head aside. He was bullied and beaten at our school bus stop; once I ran to the curb in my bathrobe, hearing Daniel’s screams as a boy was hitting him in the face.

His sister Nicole worried about Daniel; she reported to me daily after school about the trials and tribulations that Daniel suffered as a victim of taunts and torment from the other students. As his mother, it is difficult for me to admit that he could be annoying, by asking a question, or making a demand, over and over again, louder and louder until someone responded. He was obsessive about his personal hygiene, and the products. He tolerated only a specific brand of shampoo, cleanser, or soap, arranged in a specific order, dispensed in a specific order, in a specific amount.

As I reflect on his younger years, I realize that perhaps he was a child with autism; he certainly was inattentive, impulsive, often hyperactive, and demonstrated features of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He was often inappropriate in social situations. He suffered from low self-esteem, and grew angry easily. Professionals, including teachers, counselors, and the principal at his school, all of whom interacted with Daniel, never discussed with me autism as a possible cause of his problems.

When he disrupted class, his teachers isolated him and ostracized him further. Daniel began writing poetry and painting, as a way to pass the time, and to capture on paper what he couldn’t speak out loud. He was gifted intellectually, but his was a tortured soul, as his work reveals. He spent hours in detention, and in after-school punishments, becoming further and further distanced from his peers. Not only did his peers resent his behavior in class, the parents complained about Daniel to the school administration. He was never referred by the school administration for diagnosis or interventions. The school mental health system was certainly “broken” for Daniel.

Daniel befriended the mentally and physically challenged at his school, and never realized that they were different than the other students. As he grew older, and wrote volumes of poetry, Daniel would often read his work to the homeless. Daniel was kind-hearted. As Nicole told us at Daniel’s funeral, “All Daniel ever wanted was a friend. He loved to hang out with my friends because they were nice to him.”

When he was 12, I took Daniel to see a Psychiatrist. We did not receive a clear diagnosis. So, back to school he went, with the same results. Then, when he was a freshman, the school secretary called and asked me to come to the school office. Daniel was there, high on DXM, or Dextromethorphan. He admitted that he had been taking the DXM to “feel better about life and himself… to escape.” I rushed him to treatment, which was ineffective, and thus the vicious cycle began. He was arrested many times for shoplifting, loitering, public intoxication, trespassing, resisting arrest without violence, and petty theft. Most are misdemeanor crimes, committed to support his drug use, and for which he was ordered to treatment, but he always relapsed; he never completed the course of treatment. He did not return to school, but completed his GED requirements. He loved to learn, however, and frequently told me that he just wanted to be “normal.” His wish was to earn a College degree.

Daniel was subjected to Civil Commitment stays at least 30 times every year. During one of his countless stays in a Psychiatric hospital, Daniel was diagnosed at the age of 16 with Asperger’s Syndrome, Bipolar Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Because he began self-medicating as a teen, as many who suffer from mental illness do, he also fit the criteria for a Co-occurring diagnosis.

According to Harold J. Bursztajn, MD, who is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and the Co-founder of the Program in Psychiatry and the Law at Harvard University, “substance abuse is not unusual in individuals with Asperger’s and there are treatment modalities that may have changed the course.”

Daniel was deemed eligible for disability funds at the age of 21.

Unfortunately, due to the trauma he had endured in his life, both when he was arrested, and when he was housed with felons, he also suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and anxiety. He was regularly placed in isolation in jail, in order to prevent the others from assaulting him, but according to Dr. Metzner:

“Isolation can be psychologically harmful to any prisoner but is significant for persons with serious mental illness… They suffer psychological effects that can include anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual distortions, obsessive thoughts, paranoia, and psychosis. The stress, lack of meaningful social contact, and unstructured days can exacerbate symptoms of illness or provoke recurrence.”

Treatment for both disorders is essential if these suffering souls have a hope of recovery and a return to society as a productive member. Unfortunately, the statistics for treatment opportunities while incarcerated are dismal. Dr. Metzner found that “twenty-two of forty state correctional systems reported in a survey that they did not have an adequate mental health staff.

Additionally, tragically, perhaps 1/3 of our current prison population is mentally ill, according to the experts. Several professional organizations, including the American Medical Association, and the American Psychological Association have developed a set of guidelines for the treatment of the mentally ill while they are incarcerated. Unfortunately, Dr. Metzner states, “they are guidelines only, and not mandatory. Prison systems are able to obtain accreditation under the guidelines should they wish to, however, they are not required to do so.”

Mental Health America (MHA) is a community-based non-profit organization dedicated to helping all Americans achieve wellness by living mentally healthier lives. Following is their position statement on mental health and the prison system:

“Over the past 50 years, America has gone from institutionalizing people with mental illnesses, to incarcerating them at unprecedented and appalling rates—putting recovery out of reach for millions of Americans. On any given day, between 300,000 and 400,000 people with mental illnesses are incarcerated in jails and prisons across the United States, and more than 500,000 people with mental illnesses are under correctional control in the community.”

MHA supports effective, accessible mental health treatment for all people who need it who are confined in adult or juvenile correctional facilities, or under correctional control. These people need community integration and community-based treatment.

Additionally, according to MHA, Mentally Ill and Co-Occurring Disorders (Substance Use Disorder) diagnosed prisoners have a right to:

• adequate medical and mental health care
• protection from harm including staff abuse
• a facility in which the vulnerable can be protected
• a safe, sanitary and humane environment
• evaluation assessment and treatment by qualified mental health professionals
• diagnosis and treatment of co-occurring disorders, and particularly substance abuse
• individualized treatment plan that is recovery-oriented
• discharge plan
• facilities should follow written guidelines for the use of seclusion, room confinement, and restraints

Daniel’s story, and that of many others’ indicates that guidelines and recommendations from the AMA, APA, and MHA, are not being followed.

The end of my Daniel’s journey on the agonizing road of addiction began in July of 2014. After overdosing on DXM, Daniel was taken by the police to a Psychiatric Unit at a hospital by application of the Baker Act, where he subsequently suffered from a psychotic episode. Daniel was placed under a 24-hour watch, and confined to his bed in the Psychiatric hospital for 5 days. He became extremely anxious and unstable due to the psychotropic medications being used, one of which caused an allergic reaction. He requested that he be permitted to leave the room, but he was refused. With his distorted perception of reality, he got out of his bed, and was restrained physically by the staff. Physical contact is abhorrent to most people who have Asperger’s Syndrome. He was thrashing as he tried to free himself by pushing away from the staff. No one was injured. The police charged Daniel with a 2nd degree felony of assault on an EMT, but in fact, the man who attempted to restrain Daniel was a hospital security guard. Daniel was subsequently arrested in the unit and transported to the jail on 7/06/14. This episode is deplorable, and demonstrates clearly how our system is “broken” where it concerns the mentally ill. I am outraged that a mentally ill person, while housed in a lock-down Psychiatric Unit, in a psychotic state, can be arrested and charged as a felon, as he exhibits behavior over which he has no control, and without having committed a violent crime!

According to Dr. Bursztajn:

“Those with Asperger Syndrome “when responding to a social situation under duress, may become confused or overwhelmed by a barrage of social information that they cannot readily process… in some individuals, it may precipitate substantial aggression. They have difficulty with the ability to inhibit quickly and appropriately the expression of strong emotions. Behaviorally, deficits in emotion regulation manifest as problems with impulse (usually anger) control, aggression, and often negative peer interactions.”

According to the court-appointed Clinical Psychologist for the county of Daniel’s arrest, Daniel was suffering from substance withdrawal, co-morbid with his mental disorder. He was apparently allergic to the medication that was administered, and he suffered a psychotic episode. The doctor reported that there was “no intent” to commit a crime. In fact, Daniel had no memory of the event. The doctor also reported that Daniel’s insight and judgment were “partially impaired.”

Daniel and the Prosecutor’s office finally agreed upon an arrangement in which he would be placed in a treatment center. He was subject to a strict probationary period, during which, if he was found in violation of the terms, he would be transferred immediately to prison and serve his sentence as a felon for the arrest in the Psychiatric Unit.

While waiting to be relocated to a treatment center, as per his agreement with the Prosecutor, he was assaulted in jail, and subsequently placed in isolation; consequently Daniel’s mental health deteriorated, which is quite common amongst the untreated mentally ill, as Dr. Metzner has stated. Metzner and other experts recommend an Integrated Treatment program for those suffering with a Co-Occurring Disorder. Few jails in our country offer an Integrated Treatment program.

While he was in jail, Daniel did not receive the appropriate medications for his condition, nor did he have access to a Psychiatrist. He left his treatment center after a minor altercation with another client, and he subsequently drowned. The sad saga of my Daniel is now over. His paintings and poems reveal his inner soul; a tortured soul, a distressed soul.

It is my intention to advocate for a change in the legal system in two key areas: a patient in a lock-down Psychiatric Unit should never be arrested and placed in a jail with violent felons. If those with Co-Occurring Disorders are ultimately sentenced to jail time, they MUST have access to treatment by the experts for both of their disorders. Only under these circumstances can we ever hope to assist these individuals in living a productive, successful life.

Our prisons have become warehouses for the mentally ill. The cost for incarcerating these people is in the millions of dollars per year. The cost to our families, whose loved ones are suffering from a Co-Occurring Disorder and then incarcerated, is incalculable. The system is indeed “broken.” I will continue my work with “The Addict’s Mom” in Daniel’s memory. It is my fervent wish that Daniel’s brief life was not a life lived in vain.

Long Term Sobriety: Making it Stick

Marilyn Spiller

Marilyn Spiller

A friend of mine, who’s been sober for a few years now, is quite the raconteur. I love to hear her tales of drunken mayhem and redemption. She’s a female Tom Waits – Nighthawks at the Diner kind of stuff – with a sharp-edged gravel voice, and a verbal cocktail made up of equal parts regret and longing…

She paces back and forth trailing cigarette ash in her wake and says, “Yeah, the first few times I went to jail, I had a friend pick me up with a cold, 12 pack and a crack pipe in the car…” I’m two years sober, and I’ve got plenty of drinking stories to tell, but I’m innocent enough about jail time to think, “Wow, don’t they check the cars that pick up released prisoners?” and “So, how many times did you go to prison, and how many times did you quit?”

When I hear someone talk about recovery like it’s a recurring virus, I find myself reevaluating what it takes to make sobriety stick and whether the motivators to quitting are a factor in long term sobriety. In my article for Recovery Connection called “What is Rock Bottom?” I talked about the four motivators to quitting drinking: 1.court mandated, intervention, 3.half-hearted self motivation; and 4, whole-hearted, do-or-die self motivation.

I still believe that the safest, most enduring way to quit drinking is number 4. Without readiness, we grapple with defiance and denial and the low grade hope that after a grace period of abstinence or incarceration, we can “drink responsibly”. The most difficult part about quitting for me was the notion that I could never drink again. I was like a dog with a sock, chewing on the frayed hope that I could have a glass of wine with dinner, an alfresco highball on an exotic terrace… However, one drink for me is like opening the silo and shouting, “RELEASE THE KRACKEN!” A single drink escalates to four or eight, and when I wake cities are burning…

When making the decision to stop drinking, one is really embarking on a major lifestyle change. The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change, is oftentimes used to help guide the addict through the steps of change effectively.

Following are the six stages of behavioral change according to The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (with my two cents thrown in):

  1. Precontemplative – This stage is characterized by denial. We do not believe there is a problem. “What me? I don’t know what you are talking about – I don’t have a drinking problem… And that dent in the car is not my fault!”
  2. Contemplative – This stage is about acceptance. “Okay, okay – I shouldn’t have had that tenth shot of tequila…. or told your boss his toupee looks like road kill…”
  3. Preparation – This is the all important realization stage. “Okay, I’ll read the Big Book, and I’ll think about why I need to change. I know I need to change.”
  4. Action – This is the stage where we are galvanized to action. There is empowerment and we are receptive to proffered help, and open to information that will guide us. “Start running? Okay! I can’t drink while I’m running, right?”
  5. Maintenance – This is the stage where we reinforce our positive behavior and develop new coping skills – and this is where some of our old, unwanted thoughts or behaviors rear their ugly heads. There is nostalgia. We go to meetings, write blog posts and read all the available literature. “I am so grateful to be standing here… alive . Help me to stay sober. Please.”
  6. Termination – This is where the paradigm shift is supposed to happen. This is the stage where our thoughts of alcohol are totally changed… “Yuck. No interest in that stuff. Who would EVER drink alcohol?”

Behavior models are just that: models. Not everyone responds the same way, and I am not sure I will ever reach the Termination Stage. I am happy to be ensconced in the Maintenance Phase and grateful to have intuitively made the right choices to change my life for the better. Readiness. Motivation. Behavior Modification. My friend who was in an out of jail so many times, realizes now that she had to make the conscious decision to quit and the personal decision to reinforce her good habits. Orange IS NOT the New Black. Don’t you believe it.

Sober is the new black.

Marilyn Spiller is a freelance writer, speaker and sober coach living in Jacksonville, Florida. She writes a sobriety blog called Waking Up the Ghost, a humorous and honest look at her wobbly journey toward recovery. She can be reached on Facebook at Waking Up the Ghost; on Twitter @MarilynSpiller and at

7-Day Love Your Body Challenge

Lori Osachy

Lori Osachy

It’s important to develop and maintain positive body image throughout your life.  When I help people recover from eating disorders, in most cases it’s relatively easy for me to show them how to make their eating disorder symptoms go away very quickly.  Even when a person has had active symptoms for years, with the proper therapy and our help, they often are symptom-free within a few months.

What is hardest to eradicate, however, is the negative body image that remains long after symptoms dissipate.  Negative body image and body hatred are often the last problems to leave with an eating disorder. The symptoms can get better but developing positive body image is a lot harder.

Why is this?

One major reason is that from the time we’re born, we’re bombarded with millions of messages, especially women but increasingly men, too: that we’re not acceptable the way we are; we need to be prettier, thinner, and affluent, have blue eyes, or a perfect body. Think about social media too; it has just exploded onto the scene!  In addition to radio, cable and television, we have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, bombarding us every day with messages that we’re not good enough, we need to diet, and to constantly exercise.

How do you fight against these insidious messages?  You must create a force field against diet culture. This is not easy, but it’s important to get angry at all the advertisers that strive to convince boys and girls and young men and women to be perfect and don’t accept a wide range of individuality or difference.

Start to question TV commercials and ads with a critical eye. Get educated about deceptive techniques that advertisers use in the marketing like airbrushing and Photoshop.  I try to post a lot about this issue on my Facebook page so you can check it out at Lori Osachy’s Quick Start Recovery.  Instead of feeling bad about yourself, get angry and take to task any and all advertisers who try to earn money by assaulting people with unrealistic expectations of their bodies. Don’t let diet cultures surprise and overwhelm you. Start to get educated now!

I’m going to give you a few other resources to start to educate yourselves about diet and advertising culture in order to feel better about your own body.  Here is some very important advice: Try not to create a diet culture at home. Don’t go on a diet, and don’t compare people’s appearances.  Don’t put your body or weight down in front of your kids, and stop weight and diet talk ASAP.  There are so many young people I see in counseling whose parents tell me they don’t encourage them to diet.  What they leave out is that they often tell their kids that they feel fat and are going on a diet.

You’re not going to have a child that develops a positive body image if you are dieting. That’s the hard truth; and anyway, diets don’t work and they’re not good for you, so just cut out the dieting once and for all. If you have trouble doing this, read some books on diet culture and eating disorders. Two that I recommend are The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf and Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Or, get help from a trained therapist to help you defeat your own eating disorder thoughts and behavior.

Even armed with the knowledge I provided above, it can be difficult to overcome feelings of hopelessness about weight and body image and have the courage to try something new.  So I got to thinking and realized: nothing gets people motivated like a challenge, why not take 7 of my most powerful techniques learn how to love your body (there are 21 in all!), and create a FREE 7 day Love Your Body Challenge!

How does the challenge work? By signing up, you’ll receive an email every day of the challenge with a Love Your Body technique PLUS an action step to take that day.  I encourage you to sign up here on our invite-only member forum support page in order to report on your progress, encourage others during the challenge and get personal support from me as well.

Individually the Love Your Body techniques may not seem like much.  Or perhaps it may feel overwhelming to practice all of the techniques.  Yet, I am positive that if you choose just five of them and practice daily, I promise you, you will see a huge improvement in your body image and self-esteem within just one week. You will see. Don’t discount them. This is powerful information and I’m thrilled to give it to you, because I want to see a world free of body image hatred and eating disorders within my lifetime.

You can register for the 7 day Love Your Body Challenge through this link:

I hope to see you all there!

Director, The Body Image Counseling Center

What is Rock Bottom?

Marilyn Spiller

Marilyn Spiller

I write a sobriety blog, so people ask me all the time, “What was your rock bottom? What happened to make you quit drinking?” I’m pretty sure they expect a story that involves waking in a hotel room in Nassau with no recollection of having boarded a plane, or crawling battered from a muddy ditch with an unexplainable marriage certificate in my pocket. I think most people assume there is a ghastly, life or death moment when an alcoholic realizes the error of their ways, pours out all the liquor in the house, and quits drinking for good.

My answer to the question is, “I probably had ten rock bottoms in my life, and none of them were the catalyst for my quitting drinking.”

The day I decided to get sober and get help, was anticlimactic. My son was traveling home from visiting family in London, his flight was going to arrive after midnight, and I had to pick him up. Typically, with that kind of late night duty looming, I would get drunk early, stop drinking late in the afternoon, and sober up in time to be able to drive in the evening. This time I just didn’t drink: for the whole day. And I haven’t picked up a drink since: two years and counting.

By the time I quit imbibing, I had been a heavy drinker for fifteen years and an all-out lush for five. My rock bottoms were more like trampoline bounce mats. I would do something harrowing, get “scared straight”, quit drinking for 30 days, talk myself into believing I could handle a “refreshing glass of wine”, and immediately bounce back to the high life. Up and down. Up and down.

I felt like a sodden sponge, dribbling cheap, white wine over countertops and across floors and onto the lapels of the clothing I wore. I felt like an empty tin box with a glass-shard lining. I felt like a voracious glutton, needing something to fill me up.

The fact is, the day I quit drinking I felt ready. I was simply ready to quit.

And that is the crux of the matter. There are really only four scenarios that motivate a person to stop drinking:

  1. The Court Mandated Motivator: Born of the big, fat mistake and oftentimes coupled with jail time or requirements for therapy or a rehab stay;
  2. The Family and Friends Intervention Motivator: The either/or demands by loved ones who are worried for one’s welfare;
  3. The Soft (I Probably Should), Self-Imposed Motivator: Usually situation and guilt driven: a blackout, a bounced check, a bar fight…
  4. The I’m Ready to Change My Life and Will do ANYTHING Motivator: The earnest desire for a healthier, saner existence.

In my humble opinion, the only way to get and stay sober is by embracing number four. I have heard many an alcoholic say that the real threat of death, diagnosed by a doctor or foreshadowed by undeniable physical signs, was not a deterrent. And sobriety is not about pleasing others or blithe, half-heartedness. Even a jail stint or mandatory time in a rehab facility does not do the trick if the self-motivation is not unimpeachable. I have a reader who says she had a friend pick her up from jail (more than once) with a six-pack and a crack pipe to “celebrate”.

To the non-addict, or the uninformed it seems impossible that someone could ignore the red flags so completely, or relapse when the consequences are so dire. But it does not take being stopped for “erratic driving” and walking a straight line while police lights flicker, or crawling around a toilet floor looking for your teeth (both of which I’ve done) to get sober. It is the cumulative effect. It’s the earnest desire.

Sobriety is not just refusing that icy glass of Chardonnay. It requires readiness and willingness for the long haul. Maybe rock bottom is not a bad thing. Maybe rock bottom is a state of mind we must reach in order to be successful in recovery.

Marilyn Spiller is a freelance writer, speaker and sober coach living in Jacksonville, Florida. She writes a sobriety blog called Waking Up the Ghost, a humorous and honest look at her wobbly journey toward recovery. She can be reached on Facebook at Waking Up the Ghost; on Twitter @MarilynSpiller and at

Practicing Gratitude

Whether you’re in recovery or not, expressing gratitude is something that every one of us should do on a daily basis. From the moment we wake up to when we lie down to go to sleep at night, there are countless things that happen to us throughout the day that we should be thankful for. Unfortunately, we often take these things for granted, so Patty Mohler, LMHC, challenges you to mindfully practice gratitude for 30 days by writing down 10 things a day in a journal that you’re grateful for. Are you up for the challenge?

About Patty

Patty Mohler is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Jacksonville, FL. She obtained her Master in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of North Florida (CACREP certified). Patty did her practicum and internship at Hubbard House and a federal agency, specializing in domestic violence. She is currently an addictions therapist at Lakeview Health, is a SMART Recovery facilitator and owns her own private practice. She is specializing in trauma, loss and grief. Patty believes every individual should have a voice and be heard. She will devote her practice to helping individuals bolster their self-esteem, find their passion, and be inspired to create the life they want.

Questioning Your Behavior: Am I an Addict?

ashleyM“What’s your drug of choice?”


“So what if I’ve had a few nights of heavy drinking, so what if I recreationally use some drugs with my friends on the weekends, that doesn’t mean I’m an alcoholic or an addict, right?” There is a distinct difference between a heavy drinker or recreational drug user and an alcoholic or an addict. The difference is a thinking pattern that only those with alcoholism or addiction have. This thinking pattern cannot be hidden or mistaken, it’s as clear as the triple-distilled vodka that we bought three bottles of at a time, just to make sure we didn’t run out. If you remember taking that first sip of alcohol or that first hit of whatever drug and immediately began panicking about running out, that’s the thinking pattern.

Even when the alcohol or drugs are taken away, the thinking pattern still remains, that’s why we have treatment to work on the underlying brain patterns that enslave people into alcoholism and addiction. If you’ve ever found yourself buying five pairs of the same shoes, that’s the thinking pattern. Or if you’ve found yourself eating so many of something delicious that you feel sick afterwards, that’s the thinking pattern. Or maybe you’ve watched the same movie over and over that you now have all of the words memorized. People with alcoholism and addiction are people that live in excess. Now, not everyone that has done these things is definitively a person with alcoholism or addiction. If you are one, you know that it shows up in every aspect of your life. The common thought of people of our nature is: if one is good, more must be better. Below is a quiz provided by The AA Grapevine in order to help people determine whether they have a problem with alcohol or drugs, if you do answer yes to more of these than you’d like to, contact us today at 800-993-3869 so that we can help you find the best treatment available.


  1. Have you ever decided to stop drinking/using for a week or so, but only lasted for a couple of days?
  1. Do you wish people would mind their own business about your drinking/using– stop telling you what to do?
  1. Have you ever switched from one kind of drink/drug to another in the hope that this would keep you from getting drunk/building a tolerance?
  1. Have you had to have an eye-opener upon awakening during the past year?
    (Do you need a drink/drug to get started, or to stop shaking? This is a pretty sure sign that you are not drinking or using “socially.”)
  1. Do you envy people who can drink/use without getting into trouble?
    (At one time or another, most of us have wondered why we were not like most people, who really can take it or leave it.)
  1. Have you had problems connected with drinking/using during the past year?
  1. Has your drinking/using caused trouble at home?
    Most of us said that it was the people or problems at home that made us drink/use. We could not see that our drinking/using just made everything worse. It never solved problems anywhere or anytime.
  1. Do you ever try to get “extra” drinks/drugs at a party because you do not get enough?
    (Most of us used to have a “few” before we started out if we thought it was going to be that kind of party. And if drinks/drugs were not readily available, we would go someplace else to get more.)
  1. Do you tell yourself you can stop drinking/using any time you want to, even though you keep getting drunk/high when you don’t mean to?
  1. Have you missed days of work or school because of drinking/using?
  1. Do you have “blackouts”?
  1. Have you ever felt that your life would be better if you did not drink/use?


(The A.A. Grapevine, Inc. with some adjustments to include those with drug addiction)


About Ashley

Ashley Madden is the aftercare coordinator at Lakeview Health. She has over two years’ experience working in inpatient settings with both mental health and chemical dependency. She currently is in the process of obtaining her master’s degree from the University of North Florida in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She is a person in long-term recovery with a sobriety date of January 13, 2012. Ashley passionately works with the patients at Lakeview Health to ensure that they have a seamless transition from treatment into real life recovery.

Parents to Kids: Reframing the Conversation

Which is easier to talk about: heroin junkies or disease prevention?

Debbie CochraneAs program manager for a non-profit that seeks to educate youth about the dangers of prescription drug abuse, the biggest hurdle I face is denial. Not on the part of youth- they know what’s going on around them, but on the part of adults in general and parents in particular. Many parents are hesitant to talk about prescription drug abuse because they fear giving kids ideas or because they mistakenly believe that their kids would never abuse prescription drugs. I recently spoke to the leader of a youth program my son is involved in, who claimed that none of the 150 teens in his program had ever experimented with prescription drugs. Yet when I told my son of this conversation he instantly rattled off the names of several students in that very youth group who he knew had abused prescription drugs. He also said he suspects that there are many more youth that isn’t aware of who have abused prescription drugs. Yet this leader was convinced that the youth involved in his program were not tempted by prescription drugs. Adults are the gatekeepers of youth so we must find a way to open them up to a dialogue about prescription drug abuse. We can start by focusing on addiction as a preventable medical condition. When we frame the conversation as one that focuses on healthy lifestyle choices and disease prevention they will grant us access to their youth.

Those of us in the addiction field know that the current heroin epidemic is largely the result of the proliferation of prescription drug abuse and that prescription drugs are the most commonly abused drug among teens, after marijuana. Parents don’t want to consider the idea of their kids snatching pills from the family medicine cabinet, much less talk about the possibility that the young people in their lives may become addicted to those pills and then switch to cheaper heroin. “My kid a heroin junkie?? Never!!” If we start with, “Hey, did you know that addiction is a preventable disease? Let’s talk about how we can protect your family from this medical condition,” they are open to discussion. It’s only natural. Parents want to protect their kids from all kinds of things- from the danger of running into the street when they are young children to the potentially fatal consequences of teens texting while driving. Parents stress the value of good nutrition and exercise to prevent illness and obesity. Parents ensure that their children are aware of family health issues which they may have inherited tendencies for, such as high cholesterol or breast cancer. When we frame the conversation as disease prevention we take away the fear the topic usually engenders and replace it with a strong desire to educate and protect loved ones. Suddenly adults are open to what we have to say and encourage us to inform their youth.

When we talk about addiction from a medical perspective we also provide a safe platform from which to talk about people suffering from addiction. This dramatically changes the way addicts are viewed: no longer are they junkies who should just “get their act together”; they are people just like you and me, who are suffering from a disease. This is an epiphany for most people and rolls back the shame addiction sufferers and their families have felt for years. We need to remind people that there is help and hope for people suffering from addiction, just as there is help and hope for people suffering from cancer.

We can prevent prescription drug abuse by educating everyone-parents, youth, youth and community leaders-about the disease of addiction. We need to talk about addiction as a preventable and treatable disease. In so doing we can help to remove the stigma associated with addiction and ensure that those who are suffering from addiction can get the medical attention they need, while surrounding their loved ones with support. It is a message that offers help, hope and healing.


About Debbie

Debbie Cochrane is honored to serve as program manager for IWINS- I Wish I Never Started. A returning student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia (Go RAMS!!), she brings years of service to local youth organizations to IWINS. Debbie is a gifted speaker and is available to speak to groups of both adults and students in a variety of settings to help get the word out. Contact her at

What is Normal, Anyway?

We’ve all heard it before. We might have even said it ourselves before.

“I’m not a normal person.”
“How I grew up wasn’t normal.”
“I didn’t have a normal childhood.”

Whether you’re guilty of saying those things, or some variation of them, what you probably don’t realize is that what you deem normal, or abnormal, someone else might look at as completely normal. The problem is, normal is such a relative term and it’s often abused and misused based on our own perspective. Patty Mohler, LMHC, has a theory that if we start to view our behavior as healthy or unhealthy, rather than normal or abnormal, we can better understand whether or not we are doing things that are self-destructive or harmful to ourselves or others.

Video Transcription

Patty Mohler

Patty Mohler, LMHC

Patty Mohler: Hello, and thank you for joining me today. My name is Patty Mohler and I’m a licensed therapist here in Jacksonville, Florida. Several weeks ago, I was leading a process group on early childhood and several of the clients found that the conversation was interesting and asked me to record it; so let’s give it a try.

The conversation was about how people were born and raised. Several of the clients were referring to their lives as “normal.” And I asked the question, “What was normal?” You see, I’m not sure there is a “normal,” because what was normal for me growing up is not normal for you. What might be normal for you growing up, might not be the same as your very next door neighbor.

I asked the gentleman in the room who was talking to tell us what he thought his “normal” was. He went on to tell us the story about how he grew up in a crack house. You see, this was his “normal.” His father had left several years ago and his mother was addicted to cocaine. It was his responsibility, he told us, to make sure when he woke up that his mother had enough cocaine in order for her to feel “normal.” He also had the responsibility of getting his little brother and sister fed and dressed and off to school, all before he went to school. He went on to tell us that he didn’t get very good grades and that he really struggled with concentration. But he explained to us that watching people put needles in their arms, lying, cheating, manipulating, finding space in the crack house to lay their heads, was all part of his “normal.”

The woman across from him said, “But that wasn’t my normal. My normal was that I grew up in the Midwest. I grew up on a farm. I got up every single morning at 4 a.m., seven days a week at 4 a.m.” You see, it was her responsibility, she went on to tell us, to go get the eggs from the hens, feed the chickens, give the pigs their slop, and let the cattle out to graze for the day. This and many other responsibilities were hers, all before she went to school, and yet, she felt this was her “normal.” I’m not sure if I would rather have his “normal” or her “normal.”

One of the things that I try to encourage my clients here in my practice to introduce and to use are two new words instead of normal. Start to make decisions and choices by the words “healthy” and “unhealthy.” You see, life gets extremely easy when those are your two choices to make decisions. I’ll give you an example; I do have clients that are in recovery and I have one gentleman who goes to a particular AA meeting every single day, and he has two choices. Choice A, is to go down the street that leads directly to the AA meeting. Choice B, several blocks away, also goes directly to his AA meeting, however, on Street B lives a drug dealer. So the choice for my client became, “Which is the healthier choice; to go down Street A, or to go down Street B and be tempted by the drug dealer every single day?” Hopefully, the client is able to make the healthier of the two choices.

I believe that you can use this “healthy” or “unhealthy” choice in every area of your life, whether it’s mind, body, spirit, relationships, or financially. When I’m helping a client with their finances and discussing how they feel about money, one of the things we talk about is whether they’re going to pay their rent or they’re going to buy the brand new iPad with all the bells and whistles. Hopefully the client is able to see that, “I need to put a roof over my wife and children’s head,” and that’s the healthier choice, versus the iPad. Now, “If I pay my rent and there’s money left over, maybe that is a healthy choice for me.”

I also think that you can do this in relationships. Sometimes, we all have that friend that we love so much but when you leave them, you feel heavy and drained, and your spirit is low. Maybe it’s not a healthy choice to hang out with that person if you feel that way every time you leave them. Maybe the healthy choice is that you limit your time with that person, and for some of you, maybe leading that person out of your life is what you need to do to have a healthier lifestyle.

I’m just asking you to consider this; start using “healthy” or “unhealthy” as you make decisions as you move through your life and see if it gets simpler for you. Now, don’t hold me to every single minute of your life has to be like that. You see, I know that there’s going to be times that you come home and you’re starved and there’s a plate full of cookies right there and you decide to eat all of them! Was that a healthy choice? Probably not. Did it taste darn good and was it fun? Absolutely! So I do know that there are times that you’re going to have to put this aside because that is the way life is, but let me know if this makes it easier for you, if you quit calling what your life is as “normal.” Start making choices whether they’re “healthy” or “unhealthy.”

Until next time, mind your health, and thanks for coming.

About Patty: Patty Mohler is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Jacksonville, FL. She obtained her Master in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of North Florida (CACREP certified). Patty did her practicum and internship at Hubbard House and a federal agency, specializing in domestic violence. She is currently an addictions therapist at Lakeview Health, is a SMART Recovery facilitator and owns her own private practice. She is specializing in trauma, loss and grief. Patty believes every individual should have a voice and be heard. She will devote her practice to helping individuals bolster their self-esteem, find their passion, and be inspired to create the life they want.