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National Gratitude Month: Use November for Improving Recovery

 National Gratitude Month: Use November for Improving Recovery

Author: Justin Mckibben

Being the month of THANKSgiving, not to mention the month of Veterans Day to show appreciation for the armed forces, it should come as no surprise that November is recognized by many as National Gratitude Month.

But we know that true gratitude is more than saying “thank you” for what others may do or the things we are fortunate enough to have. Gratitude gives us the ability to look past the negative parts of our situation, our lives or the world we live in and focus on appreciating all the good that we do have. Practicing daily gratitude allows us to create a more profound understanding and connection with ourselves, our loved ones and the world around us. Gratitude creates compassion and empathy; it helps us to be more involved and more self-aware.

But this writer believes that true gratitude takes action. So this month, in observance of National Gratitude Month, I encourage people to take action to share that gratitude with others.

The Practice of Being Grateful

Back in 2015, November was officially proclaimed National Gratitude Month throughout the US and Canada by National Day Calendar. The initial announcement for the observance comes from Stacey Grewal, an author, spiritual mentor and coach who advocated for the proclamation. Grewal stated,

“Gratitude is an essential ingredient of a happy, fulfilling life,”

Grewal herself has been proclaimed a “gratitude guru” who wrote the book Gratitude and Goals.

10 years ago in 2007, Robert Emmons began researching gratitude and found that expressing gratitude improves mental, physical and relational well-being. Practicing gratitude also impacts the overall experience of happiness. All this is typically not a momentary improvement. Many of these benefits turn out to be long-lasting.

Benefits of Gratitude

  • Improved physical, emotional, and social well-being
  • Greater optimism and happiness
  • Improved feelings of connection in times of loss or crisis
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Amplified energy levels
  • Strengthened heart
  • Improved immune system
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Improved emotional and academic intelligence
  • Extended aptitude for forgiveness
  • Decreased stress, anxiety, depression
  • Reduced headaches
  • Improved self-care and greater likelihood to exercise
  • Heightened sense of spirituality

There are even a number of events and activities to get involved with this month, including the 30 Day Gratitude Challenge where one can sign up for a daily email that suggests opportunities to practice gratitude in new and interesting ways.

But you don’t have to commit to any event or challenge to help promote gratitude.

Giving with Gratitude

Looking at the definition of gratitude on the all-knowing Google, we find it as:

“The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”

Right there we see the inclusion of the concept that gratitude means to at least be willing to take some kind of action, i.e. showing appreciation and returning the kindness.

The way I express my understanding of gratitude is like this:

  • If I am grateful for my job, I show up and work hard
  • If I am grateful for my home, I respect it and honor it, along with anyone who may live there
  • Being grateful for those who have helped me, I help whoever I can when I can

My expression of gratitude means making every attempt possible to ensure I do not take the gifts I have for granted. We should not neglect the things or the people we have in our lives as if we know they will always be there. When we become complacent, our gratitude might slip away.

Recovery from addiction gives us so much more to do with that gratitude.

Grateful for Recovery

In recovery from drugs or alcohol, it can be especially important for many of us to stay grateful. In the recovery community, we hear people all the time talking about how grateful they are to be alive, or how grateful they are to have another chance at life or a fellowship of support in recovery. All of this is so important, but again it takes action.

If we are grateful for the opportunity to get better, we should not squander it with defiance and neglect.

If we are grateful to be alive, we should focus on living better lives and doing something meaning with our lives; even if to you that simply means being a better parent/spouse/child/sibling in your family.

Being grateful reminds us of the kindness of others and the strength that they gave us to get ourselves out of addiction. So we should live by example and help those who still need help, recovering or not. With all the benefits of gratitude we’ve mentioned, it only makes sense that someone in recovery from addiction would want to take advantage of National Gratitude Month as an excuse to exercise that part of themselves. Treating others as if you are already grateful for the opportunity is training for the mind, body, and spirit. For those working to overcome addiction, gratitude can be a

Share the Love for National Gratitude Month

If you want to get involved, it is pretty easy. Just be grateful every chance you get.

In the world, as it is right now we could use more love and gratitude. With so much going on in such divisive times, like the opioid crisis and overdose outbreak tearing apart so many lives, we should take every chance to bring our communities together.

Or if you want to help share the love and raise awareness, share this article with your friends and use #NationalGratitudeMonth on social media posts.

Have an amazing November! Remember to be grateful and to show that appreciation and kindness with action and goodwill toward others!

It’s been said that healing can come from the places you least expect it. Make sure to appreciate the opportunity. For those who are looking for something to be grateful for, it starts with the fact you are still here. If you are suffering or lost, maybe its time for a new foundation. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.

CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Why I’m a Hug Dealer: The Helping Power of Hugs

Why I’m a Hug Dealer

Author: Justin Mckibben

We’ve all heard that oh-so-clever cliché that has been used by generic T-shirt makers and plastered on ironic bumper-stickers… “HUGS NOT DRUGS.” You may have heard it so often that it has become a bit irritating. Some guy at your favorite coffee shop who collects random graphic shirts with witty quotes probably wears that one like he invented it. But realistically, the concept of a “friendly neighborhood HUG dealer” is probably a lot more valuable than it sounds.

The truth is that when you take into account the impact of physiology on your sociology and psychology, it makes a lot more sense for most people. When examining the physical science behind our response to hugs, it should be obvious that dealing out hugs like it’s your business do well for our mental health.

Skin deep…

Ok, so remember in science class how they explained your skin is the largest organ of your body? Ok, show off, I don’t! But still, it is. While skin keeps a lot of the bad stuff out, it also takes in a lot. Skin collects external data from the world around us and sends it to the brain for processing. The most effect body parts for picking up precise pieces of sensory measurements are:

  • Finger tips
  • Soles of our feet
  • Lips

Now knowing that, it makes sense that a hug provides us with a bevy of complex responses neurologically. A hug creates a reaction in the brain that is sent through our sensitive nerve endings, giving us a good feeling.


Research has told us that stress causes our body to produce a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol actually slows down the healing process while create something like cliff-note memories in the mind. These cliff-notes will be stored in relation to circumstances to teach us how to avoid that same stress in the future.

Another thing Cortisol does when we experience social rejection is make us more willing to make friends and establish connections. For example, if people are in stressful situation as a group, they often bond through their shared peril. When a natural disaster occurs communities unite, and we probably have Cortisol to thank for that. Stress creates an environment where we will seek comfort and protection through one another.


Then through empathy we react in a supportive nature when someone we know is stressed. Naturally many people will offer a hug of support and compassion, thus igniting the body’s natural means of a “high” through Oxytocin!

Oxytocin itself is a neurochemical that has a few positive effects on an individual, including:

  • Building trust
  • Dissolving short-term memory
  • Warm, fuzzy feeling

Researchers have even discovered that Oxytocin can speed the physical healing of wounds!

So when you offer someone in pain a hug it not only gets the Oxytocin pumping to keep those good feelings going, but it also helps the body disconnect from the memory of painful stimulus. Giving a hug not only jump-starts the body’s ability to heal, but protects it form creating harmful associations to circumstances.

2 Birds, 1 Hug

The big thing about being a “hug dealer” is that it is actually killing two birds with one stone- or two burdens with one hug.

How? Simple; doing good makes us feel good.

If you are an empathetic creature then you instinctively want to help heal someone who is hurting. When we see someone in great pain we intuitively put ourselves in their shoes and feel what they feel. Feeling their pain can get into our heart and soul. So we hug them to heal us both at once without even knowing it.

All together we can gather from this information that being a “hug dealer” makes an impact on the lives of both parties, and usually doesn’t result in indescribable misery or criminal charges… well, at least just don’t hug strangers without permission.

  1. A hug promotes social connections
  2. A hug relieves stress
  3. A hug helps build trust
  4. A hug promotes empathy
  5. A hug disrupts unhealthy memories of association
  6. A hug helps active the healing process

There are so many reasons why we are wired to find comfort and healing in a welcoming and supportive embrace. It communicates to us both directly and subconsciously that we are not alone and we do not need to suffer.

That’s why I am a “hug dealer,” because I see the value in offering comfort and connection to people in pain. I’ve known pain in my life; I know the value of a personal connection. Creating love and compassion in that kind of connection is the cheapest high I have ever known. Everyone should be a “hug dealer,” not just for others, but for their own good. It just feels good to embrace another person, especially when they need it most. Our bodies are just build that way, and we should take more advantage of it than we do. Look at the world around you- at your relationships and at your community- wouldn’t a hug once in a while help?

Come on, bring it in… first one is free!

Empathy, compassion and connection are much needed in the world today as a whole. For the addict, it may seem like something so far forgotten. In reality, connection is one of our deepest needs and can be the greatest natural high. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

Is Empathy the Future of Our Evolution?

Is Empathy the Future of Our Evolution?

Author: Justin Mckibben

What exactly is empathy?

Empathy is defined in a broad range of emotions, and most common is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is the capacity to identify with what someone else is feeling through their frame of reference, and to actually care and have a desire to help.

To credit that description empathy is an incredible thing for the heart and soul, and some are now suggesting it has physical effects on the brain. One question these findings lead me to ask is, is empathy the future of our evolution?

New research has determined certain types of empathy can be predicted by looking at physical differences in the brain, cultivating a fascinating possibility of empathy being able to be increased by training, or that it might be possible for people to lose their empathy over time.

Another inspiring implication is it may be possible to develop our brains by utilizing our capacity to empathize.

Shades of Grey… Empathy?

“Affective empathy” was described by a team of researchers at Monash University as someone having a strong emotional response to what someone might be feeling or thinking.

The researchers found that people who have “affective” empathy have denser grey matter in a certain region of the brain compared with those who have “cognitive” empathy, which was defined as people who have a more logical response to another’s emotional state. Co-author of the study Robert Eres commented on the findings saying:

“People who are high on “affective” empathy are often those who get quite fearful when watching a scary movie, or start crying during a sad scene. Those who have high cognitive empathy are those who are more rational, for example a clinical psychologist counselling a client.”

So what else can be learned from these shades of grey in the brain created by empathy?

“Voxel-based morphometry” is a neuroimaging technique which analyzes the density of a type of brain tissue called grey matter.

Using 176 people and data from the voxel-based morphometry the team searched to find out whether they could predict of how people would score on a test that rated them on a scale of affective to cognitive empathy based on the grey matter.

The survey found people with high affective empathy also had denser grey matter in a region folded into the center of the brain called the “insular cortex.”

Conversely, they found that people who scored highly for cognitive empathy had denser grey matter in the “midcingulate cortex,” a region found just above the connection between the two hemispheres.

Brain Changer

The researchers published their paper in the journal NeuroImage, and in this document they claim these results provide validation for empathy being a multi-component construct, which suggests affective empathy and cognitive empathy are differentially represented in brain morphometry.

Additionally, the authors say this could be used as evidence to support the concept of empathy being represented by different structures and brain cell populations. So we may be closer to finding out which different segments of the brain control how we connect to the feelings of others.

So if empathy can be linked to differences in the brain’s physiology it can lead us to question if changes in those regions alter people’s capacity to understand how others feel. So can changes in our brains structure make us more or less compassionate and understanding?

If these areas of our brain aren’t exercised and expanded, will our ability to identify with the emotions of those around us be lost? Can we teach our brain to feel one way or the other just by using it differently?

Can damage to these brain structures, as a result of a stroke for example, lead to impairments in empathy?

On the flip side, can training people on empathy related tasks lead to changes in these brain structures?

Can we develop our brains to elevated functioning in specific areas simply by practicing empathy?

Wouldn’t it be amazing to learn we can become wiser, smarter and mentally stimulated simply by identifying with one another? The concept probably doesn’t sound too abstract, but it opens the imagination to other amazing possibilities, like maybe even being able to treat mental health and promote mental growth simply by being compassionate.

In active recovery we see a lot of this altruistic idea of becoming better by helping others and practicing selflessness and other principles to promote well-being in others.

What if the key to our evolution lies in our ability to care about each other?

Mental health and addiction have a lot of stigma attached to them both, but compassion in a lot of ways is key to changing the stigma and finding new ways for recovery to be possible. There are thousands of men and women out there who want to be part of that journey, and yours can begin with a decision to make a change. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135


Could Early Use of Smart Devices Lead to Addiction Later On?

Could Early Use of Smart Devices Lead to Addiction Later On?

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

By Cheryl Steinberg

New research shows that using a smartphone, iPad, or tablet as a way to pacify a toddler may delay their ability to learn self-control.

For us, it was the television and then the DVD players in the car. Nowadays, parents have yet another tool for quieting their young ones and keeping them occupied: the smart device.

Although the adverse effects of television and video on very small children is well understood today, society’s understanding of the impact of smart devices on the brains of pre-school-aged children has been far outpaced by how much children are already using them. Basically, in the Research and Development of understanding the impact, research can’t really keep up with how fast smart devices are getting smarter.

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine expressed alarm at this disparity.

Could Early Use of Smart Devices Lead to Addiction Later On?

If you believe that addiction, at least in part, involves learning healthy ways to cope and therefore can develop as a result of both nature (disease model) and nurture (environment), then perhaps another alarming potential consequence to early use of smart devices is that it predisposes our kids to addiction later on.

Other Implications

Furthermore, the research also says heavy use of mobile devices at a very young age is having an untold impact on children’s development and behavior; the researchers warn that using a smartphone, tablet, or other smart device in order to divert a child’s attention could be detrimental to “their social-emotional development.”

“If these devices become the predominant method to calm and distract young children, will they be able to develop their own internal mechanisms of self-regulation?” the scientists asked.

Besides their psycho-social development being negatively impacted, the use of interactive screen devices below three years of age could also harm a child’s development of the skills needed for math and science, the researchers found.

Jenny Radesky, who is a clinical instructor in developmental-behavioral pediatrics at BU School of Medicine, published her team’s research findings in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Radesky urges parents to increase “direct human to human interaction” with their children and encourages more “unplugged” family interaction, in general. She suggests that young children may benefit from “a designated family hour,” where children spend quality time with relatives without the use of television or mobile devices.

When setting out to do her research, Radesky was guided by the question of whether the use of smartphones and tablets could interfere with the ability to learn elements of social interaction that are typically learned during unstructured play and communication with peers; specifically, the development of empathy and problem-solving skills.

And, in fact, old school ways of learning, through playing with building blocks for example, may be more helpful with developing early math skills when compared to the use of interactive electronic gadgets.

“These devices may replace the hands-on activities important for the development of sensorimotor and visual-motor skills, which are important for the learning and application of math and science,” Radesky said.

While there is evidence that early-learning television programs that are backed by extensive research, such as Sesame Street, as well as electronic books and some learn-to-read applications on smart devices can help with learning vocabulary and reading comprehension, the researchers found that these are only helpful when children are much closer to school age.

Radesky recommended that parents try out applications when considering what to expose their children to for the sake of learning – or simply to distract them.

“At this time there are more questions than answers when it comes to mobile media,” she said.

What are your thoughts regarding addiction – whether it’s abuse of a substance or a disruptive, compulsive behavior such as internet addiction? Do you find that you have obsessive thoughts to participate in certain behaviors, whether it’s drug use or some other behavior that’s causing negative consequences in your life? If you have questions that need answered, call us toll-free day or night at 1-800-951-6135.

How to Deal with Personality Clashes in Recovery

How to Deal with Personality Clashes in Recovery

“Love and tolerance of others is our code.” –Big Book

That quote from the chapter Into Action of the Big Book really says it all when it comes to personality clashes in recovery. There is one other little snip it that gives us some insight into what to do when we have personality clashes in recovery and that is the 12th tradition which states that “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all of our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”

I am fully aware that everyone who is sober is not a member of a 12 step fellowship and if they are it might not be the AA fellowship so I am going to try and talk about personality clashes within recovery from a fairly neutral and helpful standpoint. The reason I mentioned the AA snip its though is because they are really great jumping off places for figuring out how to handle personality clashes because they are inevitable unless you are spiritually perfect. In which case, you might still run into this problem. It is almost impossible not to. The point is how you handle it though.

How to Deal with Personality Clashes in Recovery

Personality clashes don’t only happen in recovery. Personality clashes as we all probably know can happen absolutely anywhere. So how do you deal with them? Well, luckily if you are in recovery you are probably in a better spot to know the “how” of it than most people. In recovery we get the benefit of being a little less selfish and hopefully have seen a slow decrease of our own egos.

And that’s exactly what I believe personality clashes in recovery to be:

They aren’t personality clashes; they are two egos trying to one up each other. Personality clashes are all about pride and the idea that we are separate from, different than, better than or less than someone. Personality clashes are usually fueled by fear too. Fear of what the other person thinks, what I think about myself, and what everyone else will think of me. When I realize these things I suddenly become well equipped not with dealing with personality clash so much as my own stuff that causes another person’s personality to rub me wrong the way.

Let me say this quickly also: Personalities are not the definition of a person. Personalities can change on a minute, daily, weekly or yearly basis depending on an individual’s mood etc. Every moment of every day we are internally changing and as that happens our personalities change too. So, clashing with someone based on the trivial and surface area stuff that can change seems silly. And that’s how we deal with personality clashes in recovery.

We never focus on the personality but the fundamental truth that we all know we are made up of the same stuff whatever that you decide to call that “stuff”. We focus on the moral code, the principles inside of us all, the spiritual laws if you will. We focus on patience, love, tolerance, humility, integrity, and spirituality.

That’s all my opinion though. If you are having a real personality clash with someone in recovery realize that you don’t have to be around that person or be best friend with them either. The point is, with someone who you really can’t get along with, to not be harmful. If you find you are really clashing with this person and can’t be helpful then just don’t cause harm. Avoid them if you have to. Sometimes this is the best option. If you want to really deal with personality clashes another practical way of doing so is to try and put yourself in that person’s shoes. Try to see why they are the way they are. Be empathetic.

Whatever the case may be when it comes to personality clashes in recovery don’t cause harm by getting angry or being negative. Stay positive, stay helpful, and remember who you want to be as a person instead of focusing on what you don’t like about who they are.

If your loved one is in need of  addiction treatment please give us a call at 800-951-6135.

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