A Conversation about Being Sober and Becoming Happy with John MacDougall

John MacDougallDr. John MacDougall spent 30 years drinking and using drugs every hour of the day before he found sobriety in 1989. He worked at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation for two decades as the director of spiritual guidance and now works as the spiritual care coordinator at The Retreat, a treatment center grounded in the 12-Step principles. He will present on June 23 in Northbrook and June 24 in Aurora based on his lectures and book, “Being Sober and Becoming Happy.” Gateway spoke with MacDougall about the lessons he’s learned through a life and career in recovery.

What is the “spiritual condition” for people recovering with substance use disorder?

Basically, spirituality consists of a set of three relationships: how well we’re getting along with our higher power, with ourselves, and with other people. You really can’t pull them very far apart. For example, I don’t think it’s possible to love God, be at peace with yourself, and treat other people like dirt. So any improvement in one of the three relationships improves the other two; any breakdown in any of the three relationships brings the other two down.

Before you found your sobriety, what was your relationship like with the “spiritual condition”?

My attitude was I’m the center of the universe and you exist only to the extent that you can help me get what I want.

What clicked for you, so to speak, when you found your sobriety, or what worked for you to strike a balanced “spiritual condition”?

I thought I was just a heavy drinker and used a lot of drugs and that I wasn’t an alcoholic because I had a job, an address, a wife, a car—what I now call “scavenger hunt recovery.” When I finally figured out I was an alcoholic and a drug addict, I carefully detoxed myself over a six-week period, I went to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), and I asked this guy to sponsor me. He said to me, Here’s “The Big Book.” He opened it and basically said, Here’s chapter five: it’s how it works. Here’s chapter six: it’s it in action. The 12 Steps are contained in these two chapters. If you read these 12 Steps and you do what they say, you will never drink or use again. And at that point, I had been drinking and using drugs every single hour of the day for 30 years in a row. I read them and never drank or used again. So I did a very literal application of “The Big Book.” The things it says to do are really spiritual in nature: honesty, hope, faith, courage.

What made you wake up one morning and say, I need to write my own guide?

I worked 20 years at Hazelden and I gave a lot of lectures. My wife said to me, You’ve got to write this stuff down. I said, No, no, I’m a talker, not a writer. And she said, No, no, you’re getting old. This stuff will be lost. You’ve got to write it down. So the lectures I’ve done made the basis of the book.

If someone could only hear one lesson from your book and from your lectures, maybe someone who is initially struggling with their sobriety, which lesson would you tell them?

I see guys relapse at my meeting after 10, 15 years, not because they’re not working the steps, but because they’ve been working them and every aspect of their life has gotten better—marriage, job, home, finances. They look at the fact that their life got better and they go, So I’m better.

Because this is a brain disease, our brain resets every night to alcoholic. So I need to take the first three steps of AA in the first minute of my day. My simplified version is this:

Step 1: Good morning, John. You’re an alcoholic. Pay attention.

Step 2: There’s a God; it’s not me.

Step 3: I need a fresh decision today to turn my world and my life care to God. And then carry step three all through the day.

MacDougall will speak from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. June 23 at Techny Towers Conference and Retreat Center in Northbrook and on June 24 at Prisco Community Center in Aurora. For more information and to RSVP to the Northbrook event, click here; for the Aurora event, click here

Blog Series for Parents: Delayed Adulthood and Substance Use Disorder

blogIt is not uncommon in today’s world to have twenty-somethings living at home, holding off on marriage and family, and exploring many career options. This “delayed adulthood” stirs mixed attitudes among parents. Parents often struggle and feel conflicted in supporting young adults but also encouraging independence and self-sufficiency.

While some parents may be more or less focused on a particular age a child should be “on their own”, most parents agree: The end goal is to raise a self-sufficient adult. Sometimes an adult child may be experiencing some behavioral health issue which may be keeping them home and unsure of their next step.

At Gateway Foundation Alcohol and Drug Treatment Centers, many parents reach out for help with a twenty-something who is living at home, unemployed or under employed. Parents worry that their child’s alcohol use or use of other substances is impacting their functioning, success, and happiness.  At this age, some young adults begin to show signs of a developing Substance Use Disorder because this time period in their life is usually filled with significant life changes, increased freedoms, and societal pressures. .

“Young adults we see in a treatment setting often desire independence, stable relationships, educational and career success, and fulfilment of goals and dreams.  When struggling with a Substance Use Disorder, it becomes difficult to see past the next day, and to take meaningful steps forward.  Time slows down, and people feel stuck or even hopeless that their dreams can become reality.” said Bennie Haywood, Program Director at Gateway Foundation.

According to “The Truth About Marijuana: International Statistics” of adults 26 or older who used marijuana before age 15:
62% went on to use cocaine at some point in their lives
9% went on to use heroin at least once
54% made some nonmedical use of mind-altering prescription drugs

“Addiction has an impact on every member of a household. I encourage parents to take an active role and educate themselves first about substance use disorder and then about the types of treatment available,” recommends Bennie Haywood.

You never stop loving and looking after your child, regardless of age.  Help in the launch to adulthood by staying informed. In our next Blog Series for Parents post, we will discuss the signs of addiction and what every parent should know.

Gateway is a recognized leader among behavioral health care providers in offering substance use disorder treatment, as well as treatment for individuals that are diagnosed with a co-occurring mental illness. To learn more about our treatment programs visit us at RecoverGateway.org.

Stress on the Road to Recovery

April is Natiroadonal Stress Awareness Month. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), medical specialists believe that stress is the leading cause of relapse back into drug use. Research shows that the brain of those with substance use disorder is more hypersensitive to stress, which may provoke them to relieve their stress by returning to drugs.

 

 

For those in recovery, many stressors arise such as family/relationship conflicts, work, money and health concerns. It is important to pay attention to the signs your body is giving you to recognize stress.

  • Headaches
  • Neck or back pain
  • Stomach upset
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Change in appetite
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety

Stress is often unavoidable. However, you can take a proactive role in acknowledging and calming the stress to avoid relapse. There are many healthy and practical ways to reduce stress and increase your chance of staying sober. Among these are: Exercise, talking it out (or write about it), breathing with purpose (yoga/meditation), and of course good old laughter.

Most important is to recognize when you are experiencing stress and find your most healthy way to cope with it.

Can Low Self-Esteem Lead to Substance Abuse?

low self esteem, substance abuseLow self-esteem, a perception that one is inadequate, unlovable, unworthy and/or incompetent, often stems from exposure to dysfunctional behavior as a child. If children bear the brunt of anger, abandonment, abuse, neglect or continual negative criticism, it can lead to feelings of low self-worth.

With little to live up to, people with chronic self-esteem issues may take on behaviors that reinforce their feelings of inadequacy, including drug use. When people use drugs or alcohol as an artificial boost to self-esteem, they’re attempting to function in situations where they lack confidence.

Signs of Low Self-Esteem:

  • Overly critical of self and others and believes others view them in the same negative ways that they view themselves.
  • Makes a big deal about comments or behavior of others they view as inappropriate or offensive.
  • Only thinks about what goes on around them in terms of their own needs and wants.
  • Excessively submissive to authority figures.

With professional help, people who suffer with low self-esteem and substance abuse issues can enhance relationships by improving their coping and communication skills. Rather than reacting to preconceived notions, each person has the ability to learn how to resolve their disagreements with others in a healthy, productive manner.

“Treatment is about rebuilding self-esteem. Thanks to Gateway, I finally saw the beauty inside me. They helped me work through issues that were too heavy for me to tackle on my own—some issues were deeply buried since childhood,” explains Christine, a 25-year-old woman who completed treatment for alcohol and drug abuse at a Gateway Center located in Carbondale, IL.

Does someone you know suffer from low self-esteem combined with substance abuse? Gateway can help get life back on track. Call 877-505-HOPE (4673).

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