What’s in a name (besides IOP)?

IT’S OFFICIAL! We have received licensure from the NC Division of Healthcare Regulation for our Intensive Outpatient Program. The Full Life intensive outpatient program was developed to offer an aftercare-specific program that strengthens knowledge and skills in recovery and develops distress tolerance, relapse prevention and mindfulness skills to improve outcomes for sustainable, long-term recovery.
Sometimes we try to be clever. We like the idea of having program titles that distinguish our program from others. Since Full Life’s IOP has been developed with different ideas in mind, it would be so tempting to try to get creative! We could call it:
  • When the Rubber Hits the Road (because our IOP is really focused on what happens after residential treatment) — or —
  • Re-commitments, Reminders & New Tricks (because our IOP could be a great resource for those who have been in recovery in the past but “lost their way”) — or —-
  • Recovery Tools for Long-Term Sobriety (because our IOP is deliberate about helping to teach mindfulness meditation, DBT skills and solutions for personal relapse warning signs).
But, we’ll probably just end up calling it IOP. Isn’t that the way things usually work? 😉
IOP Graphic 2From Inpatient to Outpatient
Residential treatment is a great place to get stable, get used to being abstinent, come to understand the disease of addiction and begin learning how to stay sober after discharge. Patients in residential programs often get an introduction to relaxation strategies like yoga or mindfulness meditation or an introduction to DBT skills, but they are applying them in the context of that highly-structured, highly- protected environment. After discharge, it is so easy for them to become distracted by the desires to “get on with my life” or “put all that behind me.” While the desire to restore relationships, deal with the wreckage of active addiction and move on in hopes that they’ve “got this” is understandable, these distractions and myths contribute to higher relapse rates for those who discharge without engaging in ongoing clinical services.

Different Kinds of Needs

Make no mistake. Full Life admires and respects many other IOPs in our area. We refer to them and respect their work. But we also know that most of those IOPs are considered an alternative to residential treatment and/or a continuation of the same basic material as delivered in residential treatment. We will continue to collaborate with Wake Forest Baptist, Fellowship Hall and other high-quality IOPs. AND, we hope that what we are offering distinguishes our program and attracts referrals for the folks like these:
  • “George,” has just completed a 90-day top notch residential program for his addiction to opiate pain meds and alcohol. He was able to get some relief from his chronic pain that started that whole thing in the first place, and he learned through 12 weeks of lectures, groups and counseling sessions that his use had advanced to addiction, despite his best efforts. He was able to learn about 12-step recovery, and he got started working some of the steps while in treatment. After 6 weeks of treatment, his treatment routine changed a bit in extended care, but he continued to attend lectures, groups and individual sessions for another 6 weeks. Now that he’s ready to return home, he has been recommended for an IOP. While George is willing to follow the recommendations, he can’t imagine sitting through those same lectures for another 12 weeks. Full Life’s IOP would offer him new tools while offering support and feedback as he applies the ones he learned in treatment.
  • “Marie,” has just completed her 5th stint in treatment. When admitted, she was arguing, “I could TEACH the class!” She knows plenty about addiction, 12-step recovery and finally did some important trauma work while she was in treatment this time. They’ve recommended that she complete an IOP as part of her continuing care plan. She knows how to stay clean in treatment, but she has never been able to sustain her recovery for more than a few years. She hopes this time it will be different. Because of our ability to coordinate care for supplementary therapeutic services (like Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, tapping, equine-assisted psychotherapy) to help her continue the trauma work she has begun, Full Life’s IOP could be just what she needs to finally get lasting results.
  • “Zack,” has been to treatment three times this year already. He doesn’t doubt that he has the disease of addiction, but he can’t seem to sustain recovery once the structure of treatment falls away and the burden of responsibility is on him. His parents are frustrated, feeling anxious about money and yet still want to support Zack’s willingness to keep trying. They know that his addiction could cost him his life if he can’t find ways to apply recovery to save it. Full Life can help connect Zack with other young people in recovery – at the same time he has the accountability and structure of the Full Life IOP.
  • “Elizabeth” has recently signed a contract for monitoring with a professional monitoring group because of a recent relapse following several years of active recovery. She has a busy practice, children at home and a very strong motivation to abstain and follow any and all recommendations in order to protect her license. Because her relapse was brief and she had years of recovery in the past, the monitoring organization agreed to allow Elizabeth to participate in the Full Life IOP in lieu of residential treatment.
All of these scenarios are common ones.
Client’s like George, Maria, Zack and Elizabeth could all benefit from an Intensive Outpatient Program that is more than just a rewind-and-replay version of the lectures and groups they had in treatment.
George has heard 12-weeks of lectures and is bored and dismissive of the information. Marie and Zack have never really been able to establish the kind of recovery lifestyle and emotional regulation needed to sustain recovery and avoid relapse. Elizabeth knows how to live a life in recovery but disregarded early warning signs that hinted that a relapse could happen. She’s convinced that she can get back on track with an outpatient program instead of having to put her practice, her family and her life on hold — again. So, it was with clients like these in mind that Full Life developed an aftercare-specific IOP, set to launch on Monday, October 17, 2016.

A Different Kind of IOP

We’ll be focusing the Full Life IOP on key elements that we recognize as essential to sustaining recovery while living “in the real world.” Whether living in a sober living environment, living back with family or living independently, our attention to these specific focus areas can help improve the likelihood of sustaining long-term recovery:
  • Relapse Prevention – identification of personal relapse warning signs and specific solutions to address them to prevent relapse when they occur (because we know they will)
  • DBT Skills – learning to apply specific skills to improve distress tolerance, emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness and mindfulness
  • Meditation Skills training – instruction, practice and measurement of progress with the Muse, a mini-neurofeedback device provided to program participants
  • Rehab Review – mini-lectures with group discussion on important themes that are worth repeating and others that are very specific to learning how to live recovery in community
  • Process Group – open-floor groups to share, get support and constructive feedback for dealing with “life on life’s terms” as clients attempt to apply recovery principles in all their affairs
  • Multi-family Group – once monthly groups that bring families and clients together to continue exploring ways to help or hinder each other in recovery
  • Random urine drug testing – because sometimes testing is the only thing that stops some folks from deciding to take that one drink or pop that first pill. If it stops them tonight, then they can process it in their next group with gratitude that they chose not to use.
  • Individual therapy – so often IOPs do not include individual therapy, but we believe that it is essential to make a meaningful connection with a therapist to be a part of the step-up continuum of care. It offers the forum for processing issues clients prefer not to discuss in groups, an opportunity to develop a deep connection with a therapist who can be there for the long-haul, and someone to help coordinate referrals if additional care is needed.
  • Referrals for Supplementary Care when needed: because sometimes there’s additional therapeutic work that needs to happen to help the healing continue. Our in-house and local clinical partners are great resources for recovery-friendly psychiatry, Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, couple’s counseling, EFT/tapping, equine-assisted psychotherapy, acupuncture, massage, yoga and others.
So, with that in mind, NOW you know why any or all of those creative names could apply! But as I said, I’m sure we’ll just end up calling it IOP.

So, here’s the nitty gritty:

Adults with a history of working a recovery program and/or prior treatment and a basic understanding of addiction and recovery. Those who are assessed and found to lack basic understanding will be referred to another high-quality IOP.
12-weeks of outpatient groups and individual counseling
Groups meet Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 6:00pm to 9:00pm, and individual therapy is scheduled separately.
Full Life Counseling & Recovery’s Winston-Salem office at 983 Mar Don Dr.
How (aka fees & insurance):
$4,860 to be billed to the patient directly. May be paid in monthly installments of $1,620. Eligibility for out-of-network reimbursement will be dependent upon insurance status. Any reimbursements from out-of-network benefits will be paid directly to the patient or patient’s family, depending on the insurance policy. Those with no insurance or high deductibles are encouraged to contact the Office Manager to discuss alternative payment arrangements. 
What Else:
Option to continue in longer-term individual therapy and/or relapse prevention group after IOP completion, as well as coordination of care with providers of supplementary care. Additional fees apply for those services.
For more information about Full Life Counseling & Recovery, call Ginny at 336-923-7426, ext. 701.

Moving with Life Again

Moving with life again

What is grief and how does it relate to addiction? This is the number one question I have been asked since joining Full Life Counseling.  Grief is the natural response to the loss of a person, place, or thing. To grieve is the process of dealing with grief and working towards the goal of having acceptance with the things in your life that will never be the same. Someone who is grieving learns that instead of moving on you can learn to move with life again.

Dr. Katherine Shear’s Center for Complicated Grief notes, processing grief after a loss is similar to moving to a new country.

“In the beginning everything is hard. All kinds of daily life exchanges seem strange and unfamiliar. It’s common to feel lost and alone, like you don’t belong. It’s important to know that even though your mind may feel muddled, you have tools and instinctive motivation to adapt to this new place even if it feels impossible to do so.”

Grief and addiction intersect as a person in recovery begins to grieve their life before recovery, grieve the loss of their primary drug, and other life experiences or the loss of loved ones. Coming home after treatment can feel like moving to a new country as you are unsure how to re-connect with friends, school, work, and your family. You may find that your friends enjoy girls’ nights with wine or Monday night football at the local bar with beer.  These are get-togethers that you wish you could attend but currently don’t feel comfortable going to.  How do you tell your friends this? What do you say? How do you feel apart of the group? Grieving the loss of life before recovery is a hard step to make but you have the tools to take that step.  One of the first steps is working with a counselor who can help you see the tools and signs for relapse prevention.

Consider the story of a young woman I met recently, for the sake of her anonymity we will call her “Rachel.” Rachel was a high performing student through her education career. Tightly wound and prone to anxiety, she struggled to cope with everyday life until she found drugs and alcohol when she was 18.

“The first time I took a drink, it was like falling in love. I felt so stupid for waiting so long to drink! Suddenly my worries were gone, and I could have fun like ‘a normal person.’ I quickly learned that when I was angry, sad, or elated, my peers would drink and use alongside me. When my world fell apart, though, I ended up feeling alone.”

Rachel describes the process of getting sober as humbling and scary. She told me that learning to walk with others brought her hope but that she had to learn how to do basic tasks again. “Things as simple as going to the grocery store freaked me out. Alcohol is everywhere, and I learned I couldn’t simply avoid it.” Figuring out how to go out with her friends and have a social life was made easier for Rachel by attending regular AA meetings and meeting with a counselor weekly. With optimism in her eyes she recounted,

“It’s so much easier than when I started but there truly was a grieving process. There’s a dying to the old self that I have had to accept. I am not the person I used to be and, in a lot of ways, that’s a good thing! I have choices today, and I know it can only get better from here.”

Grief is not just experienced by the person in recovery but can also be felt by each family member. Parents, children, and siblings each process addiction, recovery, and grief from a different perspective developmentally. The beginning of grief is hard and often a blur as you take each moment and day one step at a time. Is it normal to have feelings of emptiness, sadness, or guilt while also experiencing happiness and joy? As your body adapts to the change and loss in your life, you learn to move with life again while remembering and honoring the loss in your life. g5txzmszlyw-takahiro-sakamoto

As a grief and addiction counselor, my role is to walk in tandem with each person on their grief journey as they learn to walk with life again. I come to Full Life Counseling with over 10 years of personal understanding of grief having lost my father.  Clinically, I completed my graduate study at Pace University in Pleasantville, New York where I studied under Dr. Anthony Mancini and completed an internship with New York’s Visiting Nurse Services Hospice Bereavement. In the Triangle, I have maintained a private practice since finishing graduate school.

Joining Full Life Counseling, I will be expanding our services in Raleigh including co-facilitating Professionals’ Relapse Prevention Groups with Ginny, a new relapse prevention group for young adult women, working with families of individuals in recovery and psycho-educational workshops for high school and college students.

I am thrilled to be working with a supportive, like-minded team who sees life in recovery just as I see life with grief; life full of hope, joy and growth. I look forward to taking this first step on your new journey with you.

Mindfulness, Meditation and DBT: A Path Towards Recovery

About 4 years into my sobriety I became bored. Although I considered my 12-step program to be strong, something was missing. I was attending meetings, working with a sponsor and doing everything I knew to do, yet I was dry. My Spiritual life was on hold and my luster for life had become dull, flat and boring. After attending a weekend convention I called my sponsor to ask for his guidance.

“Something doesn’t feel right” I said. “I don’t know what it is, but I just feel stuck. I’m not necessarily unhappy, but, I mean…is this all there is?”I told my sponsor I thought I needed to work through the 12 steps again (sponsors love it when you tell them what you think you need). My sponsor asked me how much I was meditating. “Um….well..I think about meditating a lot”, I said.“Yeah”, he said, “that sounds about right. I tell you what, I don’t think you need to re-work the steps, I think you need to spend some time on step 11.

My sponsor has always given me strong guidance and this time was no exception. Step 11 suggests “prayer and meditation” in an effort to improve our spiritual lives and although I am not a religious person, prayer was a pretty regular part of my routine. Meditation however had been something I have conveniently overlooked.

So we began to meet weekly to investigate meditation together and this was the beginning of something that has improved the quality of my life more than I could have even imagined. Now don’t get me wrong, my meditation practice is far from perfect. I am not a meditation master nor have I had mystical experiences, but I have experienced a profound shift in my thinking and my reaction to life. In other words I can tell a difference in my life during times when I am meditating on a regular basis versus times when I am not.

The effectiveness of meditation led me to begin studying mindfulness which is the foundation of all Dialectical Behavior Therapy. mindfulness.twitterMindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” DBT is that delicate balance of acceptance and change; a dance between the ability to accept
ourselves (and our thoughts and emotions) exactly as we are in each moment, without self-loathing, self-pity or judgement and the ability to work towards changing problems in our thinking and behaviors that lead us to suffering, acting- out and negative consequences

So often it seems we go through our busy lives unaware of what is going on in our minds and in our hearts; we are all on a fast track to the next appointment or obligation forgetting that we are human beings with thoughts and emotions that if left unchecked spiral out of control or at best keep us stuck in unhealthy thinking patterns that prevent us from moving forward in our lives.

To put it in DBT terms, DBT believes that “All people at any given point are doing the best they can” and “people need to do better, try harder and be more motivated for change”.

DBT was created by Marsha M. Linehan, PhD and focus on learning to balance the acceptance and change through four modules of therapy: Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Distress Tolerance and Emotion Regulation. SURF.dbt.facebookEach module requires mindfulness practice as the foundational skill for that module. To quote Lenehan, “ We can contrast mindfulness with rigidly clinging to the present moment as if we could keep a present moment from changing if we cling hard enough. When we are mindful, we are open to the fluidity of each moment as it arises and falls away.” What has been discovered is that DBT, an evidence based treatment, is effective in helping people with addiction learn to become mindful of triggers, emotional upsets and unhealthy thinking patterns and learn the skills necessary to become effective in their lives in recovery. DBT shares many views and beliefs with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, noting that unwanted thoughts and behaviors are learned and reinforced. DBT believes that the interaction between two factors increases the chances of persistent mental health issues:

Emotional vulnerability.
Invalidating environments.

Someone that is emotionally vulnerable will feel like their life is turbulent and extreme, and they will be quick to respond with strong emotional reactions. This vulnerability can be caused by traumatic events or from the individual’s natural disposition ( i.e. they are simply born that way). An invalidating environment is where someone is consistently made to feel as though their feelings are wrong or “bad.” A lack of kindness, respect, acceptance or simply not understanding the person with emotional vulnerability can produce an invalidating environment.

DBT includes a level of optimism that is not found usually in CBT. DBT conveys that:
People are doing the best they can in their current situation.
They want situations to improve.
People are capable of learning new behaviors to change their lives.
The problems are not always the person’s fault, but it is their duty to resolve it.

As mentioned, DBT is focused on creating an effective environment for the client to learn and practice skills. The primary skills addressed in DBT are:

  • Mindfulness. This is the act of being completely aware and engaged in one’s current setting. People with mental health or substance use issues often spend increased time distracting themselves, thinking about the past, or worrying about the future. Mindfulness is the practice of being fully immersed in the here and now, with kindness and curiosity towards one’s current experience.
  • Distress tolerance. When people experience distress, there is an urge to reduce or change it immediately. Using a substance during periods of stress is an example of an unhealthy way to manage distress. Distress tolerance teaches how to accept and tolerate distress rather than escape from it.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness. When communication and conflict resolution skills are lacking, problems increase. DBT teaches people to learn how to have happier, more fulfilling relationships through effective interactions with others.
  • Emotional regulation. This is another example of dialectics. Distress tolerance moves towards acceptance while emotional regulation works to identify unwanted feelings and find ways to change them.

These skills are so effective that other styles of therapy have borrowed them and currently use them in a number of settings.

DBT Skills Training in not group therapy and processing of important client issues are reserved for individual counseling. The Skills group focuses on teaching DBT skills with homework given and participants practicing each skill between sessions. Homework review with each client sharing his or her experience utilizing the skill is done at the beginning of each session followed by discussion and teaching of the next skill. It is a requirement in most DBT Skills groups that each participant have an individual counseling session each week.

Clearly, I am excited that Full Life Counseling is offering the first DBT Skills module Thursdays, September 15-November 3 from 6pm-7:30pm. The group will be facilitated by myself and Jamie Robertson, MSW, LCSW. and will be followed by the remaining 3 modules in 8 week sessions. Anyone interested in more information or for an assessment may call (336) 923-7526.


“…In With the New” – Introducing our Upcoming CRAFT Skills Class!

C.R.A.F.T facebook
A big part of our mission here at Full Life Counseling includes finding new ways for our clients to perceive and respond to situations in their lives. Whether making sense out of confusion, turning crises into opportunities, or simply putting fresh skills into practice, we love being partners with our clients in dancing to the tune of real transformation.

Sometimes, that transformation can require a lot. But, just like buying a new car, transformation is a process! Rarely do people walk away from a dealership without some sort of financing plan as part of their purchase – that plan helps to structure the investment that has been made, and starts the process of “transforming” an auto loan into a fully-owned vehicle.

We’re excited to officially announce the upcoming launch of a new service at Full Life that will give families tools they need to help structure their “investment” in healthy change – change for themselves, their relationships, and – hopefully – in the lives of their loved ones.

Starting on August 30th, we will be hosting a new CRAFT Skills Class that will meet for 5 consecutive weeks, on Tuesday nights from 6:00 – 7:30. The cost for the 5-week class is $200 per family, and the class will be initially capped at 8 families. After the 5-week class portion, a free and self-facilitated support group for CRAFT Skills Class Graduates will be available until the following class rotation.

CRAFT, a model developed by Drs. Robert Meyers and Jane Ellen Smith, provides techniques and insight that enhance the ability of family members to effectively communicate, set boundaries, practice self-care, and pursue professional help with loved ones whose substance use has become problematic.

An acronym for “Community Reinforcement and Family Training,” CRAFT does this in part by emphasizing Reinforcements for behaviors – behaviors of the person whose substance use has become a problem, and behaviors of the people in relationship with them. For example, instead of “punishing” a negative behavior (like making someone scrub toilets for coming home late), CRAFT focuses on amplifying the naturally-occurring reward processes of the brain by associating positive behaviors with positive results (like exchanging an afternoon at an amusement park for coming home on time sober for a week). In this way, the absence of the reward (or “reinforcement”) provides a “punishment” of sorts that prevents injury and promotes cognitive connection-building.

(home on time) + (sober for 1 week) = (trip to park) = :)

(home late) + (high) = (no park) = :(

CRAFT also explores ways of communicating and interacting that disentangle enabling patterns, helping families get “un-stuck.” Techniques such as turning negatives into positives, communicating understanding, identifying emotions, and sharing responsibility all contribute to decreased interpersonal conflict and improved mental and relational health. Going even further, CRAFT explores problem solving, safety planning, and relapse prevention.

While some of these concepts seem relatively simple, putting them into consistent practice can be extremely difficult without support. But, when used well, these tools can have powerful impacts in both the lives of the person whose behavior is in question, and of the person seeking a change. CRAFT has undergone extensive research and has been cited as effective in many different aspects of improving the lives of families using CRAFT principles. These aspects include:

  • Helping a loved one enter treatment willingly (in one study, up to 74% of families succeeded in this)
  • Decreased depression, anger, anxiety, and somatic symptoms for the family members of those abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Positively influencing the choices of both the person using substances and the family members interacting with the individual
    [from ]

And as stated by Dr. Meyers:

“No one has better information about the substance user’s behavior patterns than a close family member. CRAFT teaches… how to use this information in a motivational way to increase the chance of the substance user entering treatment. CRAFT research has shown that almost 7 out of 10 people who use the program get their substance user to attend treatment.”
– and –
“CSOs*… also benefit by becoming more independent and reducing their depression, anxiety and anger symptoms even if their loved one does not enter treatment.”
[from; bolding added. *CSO: “Concerned Significant Other”]

As indicated by the title of the model, it does involve “Training”! While won’t be doing push-ups or clocking how fast we can make it down the hall here at FLC; wewill be diving into the process of recognizing that sometimes, old habits die REALLY hard, and, new ones take lots of practice and support to come alive. The CRAFT Skills Class is a great place to try new things while being supported in an encouraging environment, and to get over the hiccups and snags that can knock us off track due to discouragement.

The class will operate on a 5-week cycle that follows the curriculum below:

  1. Getting to Know You: Becoming familiar with your loved one’s substance use
  2. Dis-enabling: Game-changing strategies for holding boundaries with compassion
  3. Communication Keys: New ways to communicate familiar messages so they’re heard the way you hoped
  4. Teamwork: Suggesting outside help without the hurt
  5. Recap & Debrief

Each session will utilize worksheets and discussions that are based on CRAFT concepts and content outlined in Drs. Meyers and Wolfe’s book GetCRAFT book Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading, and Threatening*** This book will be a companion resource for the class, and is available for individual purchase.

We are looking forward to the ways in which this class and support group might meet some of the requests of our clients for simple, practical steps to make changes in their lives. As the program is part skills-building and part support-network, it will be a great opportunity to hash out what’s working and what needs fine-tuning – all while being surrounded by other people who understand, and who can provide encouragement along the way.

So, for those who are list-people (like myself), here’s the nuts-and-bolts version:
New CRAFT Skills Class startingTuesday, August 30th, at 6:00pm
Class will be facilitated by Full Life staff member Chase Salmons, NCC
– Cost for 5-week class membership:$200 per family
– Free, open, ongoing support group for graduates to meet in between 5-week class rotations
– Additional resource:Get Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading, and Threatening (Meyers & Wolfe)

If you’re considering whether your situation might benefit from the CRAFT class, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is my loved one unlikely to seek outside help at this point?
  • Am I feeling frustrated and confused about why my sincere efforts to help my loved one seem to produce nothing but negative results?
  • Is my own emotional, mental, and relational world in need of some balance?
  • If my loved one has already accepted some outside help, am I still afraid that our future interactions will lead us to the same bad places?
  • Am I open to “taking inventory” of the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs behind my response to this situation, and make some adjustments for the sake of my loved one and myself?

If you’re able to answer any of these with a “yes,” then know that CRAFT was designed with you and your situation in mind. While the CRAFT principles can be applied to any relationship, its fundamental goal is to help families wrestling with these questions. Contact our office for more information.

Additional Resources provided by the Center for Motivation & Change:

***While Drs. Meyers and Wolfe present scientifically-backed information about the success rates and impact of CRAFT in the lives of families, Full Life Counseling does not in any way guarantee that by participating in the CRAFT group or by implementing the techniques discussed therein that you will “get your loved one sober”; an individual’s recovery from substance abuse is the responsibility of that individual alone. What CRAFT offers is an alternative perspective and strategies to assist families in establishing healthier boundaries, living more balanced emotional lives, and in supporting their loved one through the process of seeking professional help. In this way, CRAFT seeks to enrich the lives of both the person with addiction AND their family member.

Winston-Salem’s Overdose Awareness Day

Winston-Salem's Overdose Awareness Day. insta2

Overdose – it’s a word no one wants to hear in the same sentence with the name of their loved one. Getting a phone call from a friend, a university, or a hospital that a friend or family member has overdosed can be terrifying and traumatic for many people. Unfortunately, more and more Americans are getting those notices with increasing regularity. This is no longer an issue that affects the disenfranchised members of our society alone – nearly everyone knows someone who knows someone who has overdosed. You may have seen the recent article that came out about the 25 opiate overdoses in High Point, NC in just 16 short days.  As the addiction epidemic spreads and the rate of overdose continues to overwhelm families near and far, we need a safe place to unite as a community.

August 31st in International Overdose Awareness Day, and Full Life Counseling will be uniting with surrounding communities to actively bring voice to those who might otherwise suffer in silence. We will gather at beautiful Grace Court in Historic West End at 7:30pm on Wednesday, August 31st to educate, equip, embrace and celebrate as a community.

Overdose Awareness Day provides us with a chance to memorialize the beautiful lives cut short by addiction and overdose. We have not forgotten the impact these amazing souls had on our lives and by saying their names, bringing their pictures, and telling their stories, we can make their voices heard long after they’re gone. In doing so, we can also provide support for families who have not always had a safe place to grieve.

In the United States, 43,982 people die every year from overdose – that’s 120 deaths to overdose per day (IODAD).

I am so incredibly moved by the vulnerability and sincerity put forth by families who have lost those they cherish to this disease. If you have some time (and some Kleenex) stop to read the Tributes section on the International Overdose Awareness Day website. Here’s one we picked out to exemplify why gathering together on August 31st is so important to us:

Robin Scott MacDonald – born 10 February 1970 died from an accidental heroin overdose 18 November 1997 aged just 27.  Such a matter of fact statement, but what a heartache it invokes still after 19 years.  On National Overdose Awareness Day, Rob, we want you to know that we remember you and miss you every single day and not just the special anniversaries, “Loved you once,  love you still always have always will”  -Mum and Dad xxx

Families need a place where they can express the wide range of emotions that come with losing someone to overdose without fearODA Day insta1 of shame or stigma. By uniting WITH them, we express solidarity in our hope that recovery, even from grief, is possible.

Sharing stories of hope and recovery from those who have successfully been saved by the overdose reversal drug, nalaxone or Narcan, will be part of our Overdose Awareness Day. By providing information about the miracle of naloxone and its ability to save lives, we can reinforce the concept that recovery can be possible if all people are given a chance. That requires that Narcan be made available to those who need it most! We will be discussing how to get Narcan and demonstrating how it should be used to reverse an overdose in hopes of getting someone the further medical attention they need.

Narcan saved my life and I stand before you now a changed man – a changed person. I work every single day, HARD, and I love my life I love the people in my life. Life is an amazing thing clean and sober but I wouldn’t be clean and sober without Narcan. I am the evidence. We need a place for addicts to go so they can receive Narcan – it would truly change things. -Mark

Overdose doesn’t have to be the end of the story. There is so much that happens for families after an overdose and, by uniting as a community, we can stand together in strength and in hope to face this epidemic. No one has to walk this path alone. Join us at Grace Court in Historic West End at 7:30pm on Wednesday, August 31st to learn, embrace and celebrate. Join your voice with ours to say that recovery is possible and learn more about Naloxone so that this life saving drug can prevent the deaths of our friends and our family members. Overdose is real and it’s happening – but we don’t have to turn a blind eye or be afraid to talk about it. Get out of the shadows, make your voice heard, and join us as we celebrate Overdose Awareness Day on August 31st. We welcome you to share this information anyone who would benefit from attending – the more the merrier. You can RSVP to the event here, share the hashtag #WinstonSalemOverdoseDay, and spread awareness by talking openly about your attendance. You never know who might have a story just like yours and be suffering alone. We are together, we are strong, and we remember. Come one, come all.

Helpful Fact Sheets

Spotting Opioid Overdose and What to Do
Signs of Alcohol Overdose and What to Do
Depressant Overdose Response
Recognizing Overdose from Psychoactive Substances and What to Do
Stimulant Overdose Signs and How to Respond
Crystal Meth Overdose and What to Do


Unpeeling Addiction with Chase Salmons

“So, why work with substance abuse?” – a question asked of me when talking with the Full Life team about coming on board. For me, a big part of the answer was easy: it’s everywhere.

It’s also easy to let that last statement echo and create tiny-but-ever-growing reverberations of fear creep out from the silence. But what if the reality that substance abuse occurs throughout every tax bracket, ethnic group, color, creed, and credential imaginable became a tool for insight? What does it mean that problems with substance use can happen to anyone?

Part of my work as a counselor is rooted in the belief that we all share common pieces of the human experience.

That doesn’t mean everyone’s life is the same, or that we make sense of the same things in the same ways – but just about everyone I’ve ever met has been able to identify with times of struggle, joy, fear, hope, laughter, sadness, stress, or fulfillment.

Having interned at a treatment center in Winston-Salem during my graduate program at Wake Forest, I was able to learn more about the substance-related concerns facing our local, regional (and from a distance, national) communities.

Rarely is substance abuse not influenced by a host of other factors, including trying to escape negative emotions or amplify positive ones, coping with mental health concerns, or even just trying to fit in.

While statistics help us see how wide this particular struggle extends, what they don’t state so obviously is the intense sense of isolation and loneliness that can walk hand-in-hand with substance abuse.

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As it turns out, when we peel the layers of stigma and taboo off the subject of “Addiction,” there’s a real live person underneath – a person who hopes, fears; who has insecurities, a history, gifts, and a lot more to offer the world. While the volume of substance abuse might be drowning out these other voices, they’re still there. The same is true for parents, partners, spouses, and those otherwise in relationship with someone struggling with substance abuse.

It’s possible that if you’ve connected with the Full Life blog, you may be more familiar with this experience than most.


In the new movie, Anonymous People, focusing on highlighting the voices of the more than 23 million Americans in long term Ripple effect no quote.cardrecovery from addiction, Michael Askew tells his story of seeing the impact that a single persons recovery can have within the community. “Every time you see somebody in recovery getting well, you know that the community is healing; families are healing. It’s like throwing a rock into a water – it has a ripple effect.” This ripple effect is a huge motivating factor for the work we do at Full Life Counseling as the transformation of the human spirit is felt in every aspect of our clients lives.

My job here as a new member of Full Life is to help both those wrestling with substance abuse and their families turn the volume of those other voices back up, while pulling the “fader” down on the substance abuse track. Primarily, I work individually with adolescents, young adults, and families to build understanding, a plan, and a set of tools to start moving toward a desired destination. Much of my counseling is based in Motivational Interviewing, which meets clients where they are, and helps them develop insight that can promote change and new behaviors that are based on the client’s own values and solutions. Other parts of my role here include co-facilitating Parent-to-Parent groups with Ginny, Relapse Prevention groups with both Ginny and Jimmy, and facilitating our upcoming CRAFT Skills Class.

I am excited and grateful to be a part of the team here at Full Life; the experience, strength, and hope of our staff and our clients is inspirational, and in the short time I’ve been on board, I have already been hugely impacted by both.”

The Paradox of Permission to Screw Up

For over 25 years, I have had the privilege and the pain of watching parents and their children learn a new dance once puberty begins. From the beginning of their relationship, parents have a strong, primal commitment to protecting their children. And children have an expectation for their parents to protect them….until they don’t want to be protected anymore! photo-1426647430637-b5f17a0c82b4

With puberty comes a new instinct by teens — the instinct to have to learn for themselves. And suddenly, the game has changed.

A few weeks ago, a bright, capable young man shared with his mom, “I need your permission to fail. I know I will mess up some things, and if I do, it’s not a reflection on you as a parent, but it is how I will learn how to be an adult.” Dang.

In truth, parents need the same permission from counselors, friends, their own parents and themselves to LET their kids make mistakes for all the same reasons. Parents want to protect their children from suffering pain, especially pain that they know about because of their own experiences. How many times have I heard a parent say, “I know how risky this situation is because I did all the same things. I know how badly I hurt because of my bad choices, and I just want him to learn from my mistakes and not have to go through all that!” Painfully, very few of us learn from the mistakes of others. Most of us have to make our own mistakes, and sometimes we have to keep making the same ones over and over for awhile before we become convinced that we’ll keep getting the same result.

My own father was somewhat famous for saying, “You know I have confidence in you, but just remember….Don’t screw up.”  Thanks, Dad. He was teasing really, but it always felt like a tall order to not screw up and have to face him later.

When it comes to the decision to use alcohol or other drugs, the majority of adolescents and young adults decide to experiment with one or more substances between the ages of 12 and 25 y/o. According to the Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health published by SAMHSA last September, 10.2% of those 12 and older have used illicit substances in the last 30 days, and 52.7% of those 12 and older have used alcohol in the last 30 days. There was no change with alcohol use compared to studies 2002-2013, but illicit drug use was more prevalent, presumably due to substantial increases of marijuana use.

As distressing as those statistics may be to parents, it is important for us all to remember the substance use only becomes risky for about 20% of the population, and only about 10% of the population end up with true addiction. And currently, the only test we have to determine if a user will become addicted is the test of time.

Only with time will the symptoms emerge. Only with time will it be clear who falls into the safer, healthier, controlled-using 80% and who falls into the risky or addicted 20%. As parents observe their teens venturing into the realms of experimentation, there are only a few things within their control, and it is essential that parents control what they can but release what they cannot control.

So what is a self-respecting, understandably-protective parent of a teen or young adult to do?

1. Remember that you already know how to do this. In all probability, you have watched your child miss tons of free throws or pitches, fall while learning how to ride a bike, skateboard or ski, or take on a mouthful of water while learning how to swim. They survived and so did you.
2. Look for opportunities to let them know that you do not expect them to be perfect.
3. Share examples of your own struggles, what emotions you felt, and how you found solutions.
4. Communicate awareness that mistakes and failures are opportunities for learning and that failure is to be expected anytime we push ourselves to the next level of achievement.
5. Actually praise their willingness to engage in safe, positive new adventures and having the courage to take chances for the sake of new opportunities to grow and learn.
6. Express understanding of the desire to engage in riskier behaviors, but let them know what they can expect from you if they choose to use alcohol or other drugs, drive recklessly or engage in risky sexual behavior. Then, by all means, if and when they test your resolve, you MUST follow through with clear consequences delivered with loving compassion for their disappointment in themselves.
7. Communicate that you love them just as much when they are screwing up and struggling as you do when they are striving and succeeding.
8. Show compassion for their disappointment, frustration or even anger when they screw up or fail to achieve even if you anticipated the outcome or have a lot of your own negative emotions. Fight the temptation to vent to them since doing so will simply add to their distress.
9. Fight the temptation to rescue them from the consequences of mistakes. Doing so actually interferes with their learning! When you follow through, you demonstrate that you can be trusted to be a parent of your word.
10. When they make bad choices or experience failure, let them know that you have confidence in them to find a solution or to tolerate the consequences. Remind them of other times they have struggled, found solutions and experienced success after failure.
11. Encourage them to take responsibility for their actions rather than blaming others.
12. And lastly, reach out for professional support to help yourself tolerate the test of time until it is clear whether your emerging adult is learning by screwing up or getting sick with the disease of addiction.

So here is the paradox. Parents want to protect. Teens and young adults say they want to learn from their own mistakes. And yet, when the mistakes and bad decisions come, the pain is very real. The teen suddenly WANTS to be rescued after all. The parents want to rescue after promising themselves and their teen that they would not. And then both parent and child must follow through with the new dance by allowing some of the most important lessons of all to be learned – those that come from screwing up.

Thanks, Dad, for loving me even when I was screwing up and helping me believe that I could persevere, learn from those mistakes, and succeed in the long run.

“He worked on his recovery, I worked on mine”: Parent to Parent Resumes Next Week!

Parent to Parent

It isn’t easy to watch your child suffer through substance use disorder. It can be just as hard, if not harder, to not have a safe place to share the intense emotions that come with that experience. This is a family disease and we have known that for a long time. The pain and desperation that those who use substances experience touches the lives of those who love them the most. That’s why we started our Parent to Parent group – to create a place for people to share their stories without judgement, to learn about this disease, and to find hope in this midst of trials. In short, parents get to spend an hour and a half together each week with other people who understand what they’re going through. This time, though, we’ve improved our Parent to Parent group to include an educational component to help families get a better grasp on what they’re dealing with.


 This round of Parent to Parent will be an eight week group that will meet every Thursday, beginning June 2 at 6pm. The first forty-five minutes will consist of education from our Clinical Director, Ginny Mills, MAEd, LPC, LCAS. Ginny is the Founder of Full Life Counseling, which opened in 2009 to give counsel and hope to those who suffer from substance use disorder and their families. With twenty five years of counseling experience, Ginny has the compassion and experience parents seek to help guide them through this process. A participant in the last session of Parent to Parent had this to say about her experience:

      “I am so very thankful to have connected with Full Life Counseling’s Parent to Parent support group! Several years ago when my son was struggling with alcohol and substance use disorder, the love and concern that I received during the Thursday night sessions helped me look more objectively at the situation and focus on what my role needed to be during his recovery. I think the most important thing I learned was that, although his behavior & actions were often difficult to ignore, I had my own set of unhealthy habits that desperately needed attention! While he worked on his recovery, I worked on mine – today, he’s a healthy and happy adult…and I am a very proud and grateful mom!”

We are really looking forward to this session of Parent to Parent and the ways in which the restructure will provide even more benefit to the community. The educational portion of the group will follow a structure to help parents better understand what’s happening in the life of their child who is suffering and how they can equip themselves for success. Here’s the plan:

Week One: “How Did We Get Here?” Experimentation Takes a Left Turn
Week Two: Brain Basics: The Teen Brain and Substances
Week Three: Balancing Boundaries and Compassion
Week Four: Reasonable Limits and Rewards
Week Five: Protecting Your Adult Relationships
Week Six: Self Care: Parent to Parent, Al-Anon, CRAFT
Week Seven: Planning for the Crisis
Week Eight: The Family in Recovery 

We are confident that parents in Winston-Salem will continue to find support and hope from this group of strong people who come together each week! Join us, see if it’s for you, and give us your feedback! We hope to see you there and you’re welcome to call our office if you have any questions in the meantime! 336-923-7526

Mindfulness Based Recovery: Triad’s First Refuge Recovery Meetings!


In an effort to continue to fully support and empower the recovery community in Winston-Salem, Refuge Recovery meetings will be offered at Full Life Counseling and Recovery beginning Wednesday, June 1 from 6pm to 7pm. While traditional 12 step programs are the solution for many people who are willing and able to apply the 12 steps in their lives, other programs like Refuge Recovery offer alternative paths to recovery. Full Life Counseling endorses all paths to recovery and acknowledges that what works for one person may not work for another. Refuge Recovery offers hope to those suffering from addiction in a mutually supportive atmosphere of compassion, kindness and acceptance.Refuge-Recovery

Why Refuge Recovery? As a person in long term recovery I have encountered many people in recovery from addiction and have been privileged to learn about different paths to recovery. The 12-Steps and the Fellowship of the Recovery community saved my life and have been invaluable in giving me tools to use and create a life which is not only happy and fulfilling but quite often joyous! As I continue to grow in my understanding of the pain and suffering caused by addiction, combined with the on-going healing that it takes to create and sustain a happy life in recovery, I have become interested in expanding my understanding of Recovery and what it means to myself and to others. Refuge Recovery is a Buddhist inspired path to recovery that recognizes a nontheistic approach to spiritual practice. The Refuge Recovery program “does not ask anyone to believe anything” nor does it require that anyone identify as buddhist, “only to trust the process and do the work of recovery.”

Although my personal path has included “belief in a higher power”, I am well aware that this is simply my “belief”. It works for me AND it does not make it a fact for others. I am also aware that for many people this requirement is a deal-breaker, and I have watched helplessly as good people who needed and wanted help for their addictions were unable to relate to a program where belief in a higher power was a basic requirephoto-1421526053088-51b69c8a8d59ment. Those individuals needed hope and instead continued to feel isolated and alone. Let’s be clear – addiction likes it when we feel isolated and alone for it is then that addiction is at its most powerful. Much like traditional 12-Step programs, Refuge Recovery finds its home in community, the sharing of experiences, taking stock of all the suffering we have experienced and caused as addicts, becoming responsible, accountable and productive and choosing to give back to society. Additionally, mindfulness and meditation practices are a strong part of the foundation of Refuge Recovery.  Recovering from addiction is a process not an event, and other resources may be utilized while walking the Buddhist path to recovery.

From Refuge Recovery, by Noah Levine: “Refuge Recovery is a practice, a process, a set of tools, a treatment and a path to healing addiction and the suffering caused by addiction.”

It is my hope that by embracing alternative paths to Recovery and Spirituality we may be able to open doors to recovery, for some who may otherwise stay in isolation, and to share the message that hope and healing from addiction are possible for all who seek.

Meet Charlie

Increasing On-Site Support

At Full Life we believe that those best suited to help a newcomer in recovery is someone who has been in their shoes. When one can relate to the feelings of someone who is new to a life of sobriety, the boundaries which separate those who would otherwise share little in common fall away with ease. That is why the Full Life staff relies so heavily on the experience, strength, and hope of our own staff in recovery! We are thrilled to have the opportunity to offer our clients the support of someone who truly has “been there.” Enter – Charlie Lawson.


Full Life Counseling is growing, both in spirit and in staff. As we continue to learn more about what helps our clients succeed in early sobriety, we realized we needed to make some changes. When a newcomer to our community has 30 days of sobriety they need as much support as we can muster. So, we decided adding a male recovery coach would offer a new level of support for clients. We welcome Charlie in with open arms as a new Recovery Coach!  With him he brings tremendous hope for his clients’ success, enthusiasm for recovery, and support for the days that seem overwhelming.

A Winston-Salem native, Charlie knows his way through early recovery. Having spent several years in Atlanta focusing on his recovery, Charlie found his home at Purple – a treatment center dedicated to helping those suffering from addictions find relief. With three years of sobriety under his belt and a desire to spread the hope he’s gained, Charlie has joined the Full Life Counseling staff as a part-time Recovery Coach. He meets with individual clients weekly to help them navigate the waters of the 12-step community, set goals, and maintain accountability to their fellow residents. Already, the impact he’s had in his clients’ lives in tremendous!

One client had this to say after she started working with Charlie: “Charlie is a wonderful person – always a smile on his face! (He’s) Super funny and supportive in the coaching session. He’s engaged and asks direct and informative questions. He’s organized and can remember what I say to him even when I don’t. He’s a very positive coach and he’s awesome to have in my life right now to help keep myself afloat.”20150123millsme1DSC_2434-19

We are thankful for Charlie and all of the hard work he’s already put in towards helping our clients succeed in their recovery! To have him on staff is an honor and feels like a demonstration to us that we must be doing something right if Charlie wanted to be a part of our community. Jimmy Tunstall, Counselor at Full Life remarked with hope,”Charlie came to us with great experience with working with young people in early sobriety and an enthusiasm for recovery that is contagious. His kindness, compassion and support of our clients has been an enormous asset to both our clients and our staff. Charlie brings with him a deep understanding of addiction and recovery, and an ability to convey experience, strength and hope with a sense of humor and a joy for living.”

Charlie, we are thankful to have you on board and cannot wait to see all of the ways in which you will continue to impact our community. Thank you for everything you do and know we’re overjoyed to have you as part of the Full Life Family! The best is yet to come!