Lessons / School of Happiness

The School Of Happiness Lesson 19: The Solution

rambo-painting

Recently I have visited the West Coast and was reminded what a magic and different attitude Los Angelenos radiate unlike the rest of us. I was puzzled why this optimism is only possible in the city of the illusions of the pink sky (caused by the pollution), and the lost angels of Hollywood dreams. In one of the Austrian parties I have met a very interesting English woman. She appeared to me as some kind of shaman for the future questions that we might not even be aware of. 

Sarah Graham shared some unusual and unpopular but profound thoughts with me: no problems, just solutions!

Sarah Graham

When the Drugs Don’t Work: Is Art the Solution?

“From the age of 12 when I discovered alcohol until the age of 32, when I was dropped at the door of a rehab, drugs were The Answer.

I always felt like an outsider, a rebel, not as good as other people, full of doubts and anxieties. I wouldn’t say that I was an unhappy child- but I always had a lurking sense of ennui and engaged in a lot of adrenaline thrill-seeking activities to lift my mood; and ate a lot of sweets (refined sugar is a mood-altering, addictive, white powder too!)

Basically, I wasn’t *happy with life on life’s terms.

Alcohol and other drugs took all that away and I finally felt free to be me: to speak up, dance, flirt, have sex and feel part of humanity.

Very importantly, I quickly made a connection between using substances and having the confidence to write and channel creativity through various forms.

I loved mind-altering chemicals- legal and illegal (breaking the law felt exciting not scary). During my twenty years of using them I tried most of them, “soft” and “hard” and liked to mix them up in imaginative cocktails- perfecting the right combinations to get through the week- functioning at work and staying up to party all weekend.

I never understood why anyone would want to drink one glass, take half a pill, have a few puffs, or snort one line.

As Narcotics Anonymous puts it, “One is too many and a thousand never enough.”

For me it was all about alternating between functioning at a high level- including lots of exercise to stay fit- and then getting off my head, away from reality, seeing the world differently to others and having access to hidden worlds.

Oscillating between penthouse & pavement is eye-opening and I enjoyed the fluidity of human connection that drugs can facilitate (eg hugging everyone in a club when you are under the influence of E, hanging out with people you wouldn’t normally associate with, there are many examples).

Working hard and partying harder is a lot of fun and many of us know the potential physical health risks but what I hadn’t comprehended was the severe impact of this lifestyle on my mental health and my emotional heart.

By the end of my “addiction career” I was suicidal and spiritually dead.

The Answer became The Problem and I didn’t see that creeping up on me.

Like most addicts, I was in denial. Others could see the problem but I really couldn’t. I went to work everyday (albeit hungover or high from the night before) so how could I be an addict?
I also failed to notice how my youthful ambition to make films that could effect change in the world was corroded by my addictions and somehow I ended my TV career making game shows for mainstream audiences.

It took nearly 9 months of rehab and over ten years of being clean from all drugs (including alcohol) to get a clear picture of what actually happened and I’m still working a daily “programme of recovery” now; to stay healthy and work through the traumas that accumulated over those years.

Lesson 1 poses the wonderful question: “Can art be useful in the articulation and transformation of perception and self-experience in a very real way?”

As a therapist, specialising in addictions (and writer and director) who enjoys working with many creative people, I feel I can answer this question.

YES IT CAN!

Here is a short film I directed for the mental health series- Mad for Arts which makes the case, far more eloquently than I can express in words.

A lot of addictive behaviour is shocking and makes no logical sense- especially to loved ones- but it does make sense when understood by looking at the feelings that drive it.

*The latest neuroscience is confirming what Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 Step fellowships have been saying since the 1930s: that addiction is a brain based illness.

The brains of addicts have a tendency towards depression and/or compulsivity as two of the main drivers and it seems to be the case that for many people there is a genetic predisposition- addiction and mental health issues often pass down through families.

In an increasingly polluted, stressful world- where negativity and low self worth is often the norm- it is almost impossible to avoid exposure to alcohol and other addictive drugs; and misuse and abuse is enabled in many cultures.

New technology and even food is being deliberately designed to capture us in addictive relationships.

Many of us are now addicted to something or know someone very close to us who is.

But, of course, addiction genes and sophisticated targeting of the brain’s pleasure centres aren’t the whole story: most of the people who end up working with a therapist like me, or in rehab, have experienced trauma- which has triggered the addiction.

Sarah Graham Solutions (www.sarahgrahamsolutions.com) works with clients holistically and when an individual is moving into a new life of recovery from any mental and/or physical illness we believe it is vital to tap into the creative stream and reawaken the clients’ hearts- to locate the real (often long-buried) passions that drive a person.

There is a good evidence base that cultivating a feeling gratitude and a positive outlook as well as feeling a connection with the therapist and other humans is vital for a good outcome.

We know that the community of free 12 Step meetings work for millions of people across the globe- a big part of why they work is the fellowship they engender; and the commitment to helping others that they are built upon.

In my experience, of working one-to-one and in groups, Art and creative expression is often the magic key that can open even the most rusty locks. Having a daily commitment to creativity can fill the enormous time void that is left, when a person stops devoting their energies to getting and using drugs.

Mindfulness is a part of many of the best rehabs’ daily programmes and when combined with artistic expression this can act as a conduit to release blocked feelings and memories in a powerful, healing, way.

Aside from physically detoxing, it is also vital to mentally detox the brain from negativity.

In the Western world medicine is all about prescribing pills and there are definitely mental health conditions that can respond well to this approach. But it is not the only way and the side effects can be serious.

Sometimes a poem is more powerful than any pill.

Here’s a film I directed for Mad for Poetry

Art in all its forms can be the best medicine for the soul. ”

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Before going to rehab and getting clean on 12.12.01, Sarah Graham had a career in media.

But after 20 years of drinking and drugging, Sarah’s “functioning addiction” nearly killed her. Through doing 8 months rehab and having to unpack her whole life making radical changes to get well Sarah really does understand what it is like to have low self-worth- to feel totally defeated and to have lost all hope.
She feels very lucky to have had the best treatment with great counsellors and has rebuilt a fantastic life One Day At A Time. Her passion for recovery is powerful and she wants everyone to have the chance to achieve their full potential.
In recovery she has become an experienced counsellor, auricular acupuncturist, drugs and addictions expert. Here’s how..
After completing her Foundation in Person Centre Counselling at East Surrey College, Sarah was asked to join Priory Healthcare. They gave her the opportunity to work in groups- both client and family groups- and one-to-one at two of their best residential rehabs- in both primary and secondary treatment environments.
Sarah combined working alongside world-class therapeutic teams in Surrey with her classroom study at the Priory Hospital Bristol. She was awarded the Priory Professional Addiction Therapy Diploma and moved on to the charity In-volve to help set up Respond, their joint adult service, with the NHS. She worked as a both a counsellor and nationally as In-volve’s Senior Consultant, Communications and Media.
Sarah pioneered a very successful holistic stimulant drugs service and this work led to being asked to sit on the ACPO Precursors Working Group (to prevent crystal meth taking hold). In 2009, she gave evidence on cocaine use and her holistic treatment model to MPs at the Home Affairs Select Committee Investigation into the cocaine trade.
Sarah Graham is recognized as being a leading authority on substance misuse by children and young adults and is an expert commentator for Frank  (UK government drugs information service). Helping Frank communicate with one of the toughest, most demanding audiences of all- teenagers. in 2011, Sarah was appointed to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs [ACMD].
She is seeking to constantly improve our knowledge and treatment methods and has attended training with the best people in their fields: Ken Seeley and John Southworth for intervention work, USA nutrition and sugar sensitivity expert Kathleen DesMaisons and leading LGBTQQi therapist Joe Amico.
Sarah launched Sarah Graham Solutions in May 2009, to deliver counseling, complementary therapy, education and training to individuals, families, groups and corporations. Constantly innovating and striving for the best outcomes- for the diverse populations we work with.
Sarah Graham Solutions mission statement is to positively influence the lives of 10,000,000 people. (10 million is a fraction of the global population affected by alcohol, drugs, and other addictions). But it’s a start!

www.aa.org

www.na.org

Find out more during The School of Happiness series of Talks at VIENNAFAIR The New Contemporary 10-13 October. viennafair.at/visitors/special-projects/

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