Loving a struggling addict

A trauma informed perspective

By Ben Goerner

Listening to your loved ones and helping them hear that you hear, how they’re feeling and what they’re saying is likely the simplest and most effective way to practise trauma-informed communication.

Remember that always. Also remember, that there is no proper way to say things that fit everyone.

Loving someone struggling with mental health disorders such as substance dependence disorder is one of the hardest things anyone can experience.

They are most likely struggling with more than one mental health disorder and much more likely to have experienced some form of trauma early in life, which can continue as they struggle through the seemingly poor decisions and consequences of those decisions.

The person you love who is struggling with addiction is grappling with the daily gruesome internal fight not to use. Most often, the need to self-medicate, numb the pain of failures or of horrors, wins.

After your loved one sincerely promises, again, to remain abstinent, all of this stands in the way of loving the person the way you would like to.

Then, your loved one fights with the embarrassment, shame, lack of confidence and trust in themselves. They battle themselves because they know they’ve hurt you. Even though they love you.

The person you love is likely always in a state of depression and anxiety at the same time. That is why people, suffering in addiction, use drugs/alcohol.

It is not meant to hurt you even though it does. In addiction, using substances is meant to ease their pain and just that, but at any cost. And you are grievously hurt because of it.

Your loved one will do anything to medicate. Because they can’t imagine not doing that. There is no life or love beyond their next hit. So they lie, steal and manipulate to desperately get what they need.

And it becomes harder to love them. You are hurt and angry. You cannot trust.

But love is the answer and I’m not trying to be cliché or glib. Most people dependent on drugs and alcohol and suffer from the characteristics of addiction, have experienced, and continue to experience trauma.

We know that addictive behaviours are subject to triggers; so is trauma.

When a person begins to use substances to numb out, they also develop and program triggers into their psyche and into their nervous system, especially the brain.

The addiction essentially becomes uncontrollable and unpredictable. This usually occurs with little to no awareness. The same occurs with trauma.

The person usually is not aware what triggers their overwhelming anxiety and the desperate need not to feel; at least not until they have started to explore this.

We all know how hard it is just to start looking at any of the bad or horrible things that have happened to us. That is how hard it is to also look at the reasons a person becomes addicted.

Here is one major reason that people need to be "ready" to move forward with help such as detox or any other kind of treatment. It's like standing on the highest diving board, or cliff, and making that decision and jumping into the water below.

A word, a movement, a concept, a photo of an abuser could all be triggers to re-traumatize your loved one. Yelling, lecturing, blaming can also lead to this.

So now what? Everything you do could potentially set your loved one into a tailspin if you’re not careful.

When you listen, no matter how scared or pissed off you are, and let your loved one know that you’ve heard their story, their feelings, etc., you have a much better chance of moving through anything traumatic with your loved one.

That doesn’t mean you don’t set boundaries. It doesn’t mean you don’t let them know how you feel. Of course, you do, after you’ve acknowledged that you’ve heard what they feel.

You have a much better chance of working on things together when you practise compassion and empathy.

This is the most natural way to be trauma informed with your loved one.

So yes, loving someone who is suffering from the horrendous symptoms of addiction is complex and one of the hardest things you will do in trying to support them.

Compassion will help you feel calm and focused in dealing with them.

Compassion opens the door to empathy.

Empathy will help you understand the issues and create a safe space for your loved one to let you know what they need, what works, what doesn’t work, and to avoid re-traumatizing them.

And most of all, they will feel OK to let you know that they really do love you too, because they trust you to listen. 

Ben Goerner is a retired substance use counsellor with 31 years in the field. He is also a singer songwriter and blogger, often writing about his experiences with addiction. You can read more at bensharmonics.com

It is more than that

By Ben Goerner

It does not surprise me that the overdose crisis is spiking during this pandemic, or that it even occurred in the first place.

If we look at the root causes of addiction, we can see the answers quite clearly and they are complex, but obvious to those who have worked alongside people who struggle with addiction and are aware of the latest evidence and facts.  

It is the fact that drugs rewire the brain. They hijack rational decision making and turn people, places, and things in to unmanageable urges to use.

And it’s more than that.  

It is the fact that street drugs are being poisoned and made more powerful for the sake of profit by criminals.

And it’s more than that.  

It is the fact that pharmaceutical companies lied to the public, misleading doctors in to thinking opioids were non addictive.

And it is more than that.  

It is the fact that opiates were being over prescribed, and then suddenly taken away when it was discovered that they were addictive, leaving people in debilitating, overwhelming withdrawal.

And it is more than that.  

It is the fact that trauma is directly linked to addiction; that consistently 70-80% of youth attending counselling for substance use reported trauma from various forms of abuse.

And it’s more than that.  

It is the fact that most people who suffer from addiction also suffer with other developmental, and mental health issues, or brain injury.

And it is more than that.  

It is the fact that people have been displaced in our society, through lack of employment, lack of opportunity, and lack of stability including housing.

And it is more than that. 

It is the fact that we use derogatory labels to stigmatize those who suffer with addiction.

It is this and so much more.

It is the fact that some lives mean more than other lives, that we are willing, as a society, to purposely displace, oppress, and demonize certain people.  

It is the fact that too many people walk through life without resources, purpose, a sense of worth, connection, and love.  

It is the fact that many people discover that substances help them feel better, and then, eventually just to feel normal, then to stave off horrific withdrawal symptoms.  

It will take much more than a few weeks or months in a treatment centre to address this problem.  

It will take our communities, our whole society, to begin to change how we see people, that all people belong in our society and our communities.  

It will take compassion, empathy, patience; it will take a willingness to relinquish our holier-than-thou judgment.  

It will take developing holistic plans that are flexible and inclusive.  

It will take a willingness to shed the lies we’ve been told about drugs and addiction for the last 100 plus years and re learn the reality of addiction.  

If there is one thing this pandemic has shed light on, it is that we must reach out and embrace those who are suffering from addiction, before they die, too.

Ben Goerner, a Lake Country a singer-songwriter, is a retired substance-use counsellor with 31 years in the field. You can read more on his blog at bensharmonics.com  

Stress, the silent threat

By Michael van Soest

We all experience stress and we all experience it differently.

Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life experiences — from every-day responsibilities such as work and family to serious life events.

When a stressful event or situation occurs, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released, which gets our heart to beat faster, our breath to quicken and our muscles to tense. This put us in the fight-or-flight mode, giving our mind the enhanced awareness and our body, the physical edge needed to either run away or take it head on.

Yet, if your stress response keeps firing, stress levels will stay elevated far longer than it is necessary for survival. This can eventually can take are serious toll on your health.

Usually, the sensation of stress will pass, but most often, in today’s world, we do not allow for the necessary time for a deep enough relaxation to completely unwind.

Studies have shown that one to three adults suffer from the effects of unmanaged stress. Many of us don’t even realize how stressed we actually are; often becoming accustomed to being tense, so we think of it as normal.

It damages our health, our work, our relationships. It destroys families, businesses, and lives. It costs companies staggering amounts every year in health costs, absenteeism, and poor performance.

In fact, stress built up over a long period can reduce our ability to regenerate, which means less energy and tolerance to combat daily stress.

This is the serious, silent threat.

Just because you wind down to go to sleep does not mean you are able to reach a regenerative state of being. Most people have difficulties sleeping due to a high level of unrealized stress.

  • Do you wake up feeling tired?
  • Are your sleep cycles shallow?
  • Do you wake up in the middle of the night feeling stressed?

If you answered yes to any of these three questions, your nervous system is highly engaged with stress. Research shows that stress, most often, leads to health implications which includes:

  • Difficulty with thinking or concentrating
  • Higher levels of anxiety
  • Poor performance
  • Digestive problems
  • Waking up tired
  • High blood pressure
  • Lowers immunity
  • Slow the body’s recovery time
  • Higher risk of catching a cold.

Sheldon Cohen, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University who has been researching stress since the 1990s, showed that chronic stress lasting more than a month, but less than six months doubled a person's risk of catching a cold.

Stress can affect us in various different ways, often as emotional, mental and physical symptoms.

Understanding what your particular symptoms are is one of the best tools for stress management.

Getting to know these will help you become more aware of when you are stressed, so you can take action and do what you can to reduce it before it becomes a serious health concern.

Here are some tools and techniques to help you manage stress better:

  • Increasing your communication skills and being more assertive (learn to say no when your schedule
    is already full).
  • Using relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, clinical hypnotherapy, or yin yoga.
  • Exercising frequently will help to decrease stress and promote relaxation.
  • Making time for self-care will help you develop emotional resilience. 
  • Making time for hobbies and fun activities will help to alleviate stress.
  • Assessing your diet and reducing the amount of sugar and caffeine.
  • Having a daily gratitude practice will help to shift your mind and body to promote relaxation.

If stress is impacting your life, you may need further support. Hypnotherapy is becoming well-recognized and growing in popularity. 

Hypnotherapy is perhaps one of the least understood therapeutic tools. While most people think of hypnosis as taking the power away from the individual and getting them to quack like a duck or bark like a dog, scientifically speaking, this is untrue.

The person stays conscious while in trance, no matter what is claimed. Nobody can hypnotize you without your consent or awareness.

In a hypnotherapy session the client may feel a sense of ease, calm and very relaxed. This includes reduced muscular tension, lowered blood pressure, and comfortable breathing.

Deep regenerative relaxation hypnotherapy is highly effective. Reversing built up stresses and tensions that are normally unrealized.

This relaxation therapy is comfortable, safe, and considered to be a highly liberating experience. It’s beneficial for both the mind and the body, easily diminishing common health concerns.

The key benefits from this type of deep relaxation are:

  • Improving concentration and mood
  • Boosting confidence to handle problems
  • Improving sleep quality as much as 80%.
  • Reducing activity of stress hormones
  • Reducing muscle tension, pain, headaches & migraines
  • Increasing blood flow to the brain & major muscles
  • Greatly lowering fatigue
  • Help to restore and strengthen the immune system
  • Lowering of blood pressure
  • Stress relief and the lessening of chronic pain, tension
  • Diminish any emotional upsets

?Hypnotherapy is often used to help increase your confidence and self-esteem making you feel more comfortable with the ability of setting healthy boundaries and saying no to people. These are essential tools for managing stress.

Michael van Soest is a Kelowna hypnotherapist. Visit: https://consciousharmonics.ca or email [email protected] 


Picking teaches life lessons

By Raina Dawn Lutz

Picking fruit used to be a rite of passage for young people in the Okanagan.

It can be again; this year, it needs to be.

Farmers got hit hard this year.

We need to talk more about what is happening with our local food. The last few months have brought it all to the forefront for us to see. The more farmers and food system workers — growing, picking, sorting, distribution, sales — that I meet, the more I have to share.

Farmers are incredible. They are scientists, environmentalists, mechanics, marketers, veterinarians, teachers and the best stewards of the land.

Spring and summer brought fear, stress, depression, anxiety, world change and shifts we’ve never seen before.

Nature brought heavy rain and less sun.

And fewer foreign workers (our farmers’ rely on foreign and out-of-province pickers) because of travel restrictions from COVID-19.

I am no stranger to picking fruit. As a professional with a holistic nutrition practice I still like to get dirty, humble, and under-paid …. on occasion.

This summer, it wasn’t a fun side project. It was vital.

As I was there I got to thinking how many others could benefit from this, while also helping our farmers.

Our local youth should be out in the fields, whether it’s a work experience program through the schools, or obligatory parental enforcement.

Picking fruit should be a rite of passage for youth living in our valley, whether they want to become entrepreneurs or be out in the workforce.

It teaches character

The old adage rings true. Having to wake up early, report to a dewy field or orchard, get instructions (or very little, and have to do problem-solving on your own) and get to work forces you out of your comfort zone.

It's a necessary skill for life — whether you are going to be an entrepreneur or work in a team in your future. It’s a great lesson for those who want to work for themselves.

The principle is simple.

Sit on your phone in the shade and don’t pick — no money.

Pick and strain your shoulders and fingers for a day to warm them up to the new motions you’re making for hours straight — money.

If there’s anything I know parents want for their kids, it’s to teach them the value of a dollar.

It preps you for the real world

That real world that’ll slap you once you get out of high school and into the big, bad world. I know, I know. It’s like something someone would say to you condescendingly. But truly. Nothing like real hard sweaty work experience (that starts pre-5 a.m.) to teach you what hard work looks like.

It can also teach you quickly what you don’t want to do when you grow up. Either way, you’re winning. Put music or an e-book on, get a tan, and get paid to work out. Not all jobs will be like this.

Spark farmers

We need youth in farming. This will give a glimpse into a world they may never get the chance to experience otherwise.

Maybe touching food and connecting with the trees will inspire a new way in life.

Maybe it was something that’s been missing that they couldn’t figure out what it was.

Maybe there is curiosity about soil, sun and land. Getting dirt under nails can spark farmers that the world needs. Food sovereignty should really be our focus right now, so encouraging youth to test the waters, when they are so close to reaching work-force age, is key.


If you can’t share all that you’ve learned, you shouldn’t be teaching. I’ve been obsessed with the food movement since 2010, and I learn something new every time I talk to one of my organic farmer friends. Their knowledge banks are incredibly massive and are always growing.

Just being around people involved in the food movement is a great way to (“by osmosis”) increase your knowledge about food. And after a life of quarantine, one thing we all can’t deny was our basic human worry, attachment and need for food.

The local food supply chain became forefront, focused and vital. If we recognize the cracks that we saw in the system during the peak of COVID, we can acknowledge the increasing need (not want, need) for support of our local farmers and growing our own for eating or trade.

It’s just a good thing to do

The Good Samaritan rule brings fresh air to news stations, makes people cry in viral videos, and increases your good karma.

When someone asks for help, you can just help them. This year, our farmers’ are in need.

  • Do a day
  • Do a week
  • Just do it.

(You can join Okanagan Pickers or Similkameen Seasonal Workers groups on Facebook, or simply call/walk up to a farm with the in-need sign out.

You can also join volunteer programs such as the Okanagan Fruit Tree Project who pick from people who need help, donate it and you get to keep some too.)

Whatever your reason.

Maybe you’ll keep some of the cool habits you pick up on the farm.

  • Early to rise
  • Eating a mean breakfast
  • Physical labour for improving your muscle mass
  • The virtuousness of a pickers’ life full of camaraderie with nature.

Raina Dawn Lutz is a registered holistic nutritionist and founder of Experience Kombucha, and Eat the Counter Culture. [email protected]; lutznutrition.ca

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