Title: Total Recovery: Balancing Head & Heart, Body & Soul in Recovery
Author: Jim Parker
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: February 1999
Catalog Number: 222

4: Re-Programming the Body

Though one
should in battle conquer a thousand men a thousand times, he
who conquers himself has the more glorious victory.


The obvious place to start in
any plan of total recovery is with the body. The body is almost
a thermometer of the soul and in a very real way its health and
well-being reflects the state of order and integration present
at deeper levels of our being.

The body is also the place where
many of the more visible problems associated with chemical dependency
show up. Nutritional deficiencies are common after extended bouts
with drugs and alcohol. So is physical disease, fatigue, and
a general state of disrepair.

And to begin to turn things around
you have to begin to examine an idea that’s so obviously true
— and so often misrepresented — that it’s joked about. It’s
this: You are what you eat.


we were withholding made us weak
Until we found it was ourselves.

–Robert Frost

Bad nutrition is such a pervasive
part of our lives that it’s almost invisible to most of us. But
that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Because nutritional deficiency
is common — too common. In fact, a study at one U.S. medical
center showed that 83 percent of newly-admitted patients have
at least one vitamin deficiency, and 68 percent have two or more.
And note: These weren’t alcoholics and drug abusers; they were
ordinary people taken from the general population.

There’s even evidence that dietary
deficiencies can directly trigger chemical use patterns and preferences.
In his book, Mental and Elemental Nutrients, researcher
Carl Pfeiffer describes a study in which a rat placed on a “typical
American diet of coffee, refined foods, and soda” eventually
shifted his preference from plain water to whiskey, when given
the choice.

What’s it mean? Plenty. For one
thing, it means you’d probably better get started now if you
want to bring yourself back up to zero. And it means you’d better
make some serious changes if you want to stay above zero — and
away from drugs and alcohol.

Since alcohol and drugs are notorious
for depleting body stores of everyday vitamins, particularly
B-complex vitamins, it’s possible that you’re already suffering
a deficiency of at least one vitamin or essential mineral. And
that could well be influencing the way you feel — and how well
you cope with being suddenly straight.

To compensate, you should probably
look into vitamin supplements for at least the short term and
consider serious nutritional change for the long term. Because
rats aren’t the only ones whose minds and moods are affected
by diet. You are, too.

Starting from Scratch. But where do you start in changing your
diet? Almost anywhere is better than nowhere.

Probably the most important thing
is to simplify. You can begin by reducing your consumption of
fast foods and processed foods.If you’re like most people, that
should leave an enormous nutritional hole in your life. Fill
it with natural foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.
They contain trace elements that can improve health — and the
absorption of other nutrients.

Cut back on caffeine — or eliminate
it altogether if anxiety or insomnia are problems for you. Limit
red meats and up your intake of whole grains and bran.

One thing we need to emphasize
is that we’re not trying to get you to give up anything in particular.
What we are attempting to do is support you in a process which
will expand your awareness of the ways in which eating patterns
affect the way you think and feel and behave. And that’s important
stuff when you’re doing something as difficult as dropping a
drug and alcohol habit.

Unconvinced? Okay, but all you
have to do to observe the body/mind food connection firsthand
is by doing what many treatment professionals recommend that
you do anyway: banish sugar from your diet.

Sugar: The Primary Addiction? That’s because today, the average American
licks, gulps, and guzzles between 115 and 150 pounds of sugar
each year. And if that sounds like a lot, it is. A hundred years
ago, we got by — pretty well, from most accounts — on no more
than 5-10 pounds.

The result of all that sugar,
according to many experts, is a massive strain on our internal
regulatory systems. In fact, many researchers today consider
sugar not only addicting in itself, but also a main culprit in
addictions of all kinds.

Here’s how it works: There are
two basic forms of sugar molecules — simple sugars or carbohydrates
(called mono- and disaccharides) and complex carbohydrates (called
polysaccharides). All that distinguishes one from another
is the complexity of their chemical structure and the ease with
which the body can “unlock” the individual molecules
and release energy through digestion.

Complex carbohydrates take a
lot of unlocking; they’re broken down slowly, and release energy
in an almost “time-release” fashion. Simple sugars,
though, are easy to unlock — so easy, in fact, that they act
as a nutritional “rocket fuel” — a nearly-predigested
form of instant energy.

That would be fine if we were
rockets. The problem is that we’re not.

Because the fact is that the
sharp rise in blood sugar we experience after eating simple sugars
is followed by an equally sharp drop — usually in an hour or
so — as the body works to bring blood sugar levels back into

This happens because the body
isn’t designed for fast lift-offs and crashes. We don’t tolerate
rapid blood sugar changes well and, as a result, have evolved
a complex system to correct such shifts. The most immediate one
involves the pancreas, which releases the hormone insulin in
response to elevated blood sugar levels.

When insulin is released into
the bloodstream, blood sugar immediately begins to stabilize
as excess sugars are moved to the liver for storage. When blood
sugar drops, insulin production stops and everything goes back
to normal — in theory. In practice, lots of things can go wrong.

Probably the best-known problem
is diabetes. It results from too little insulin and too much
blood sugar (a condition known medically as hyperglycemia). At
the other end of the spectrum — and more likely to affect chemical
users — is hypoglycemia, a condition of too little blood sugar.

Hypoglycemia — Fighting Back. Lots of recovering people suffer from
hypoglycemia and its effects, which can include fatigue, depression,
confusion, anxiety, insomnia, dizziness, impaired concentration,
irritability, moodiness, and other problems.

One researcher has even reported
finding hypoglycemia in 95 percent of a tested group of alcoholics.
And according to Pfeiffer, the hypoglycemia doesn’t just show
up after the fact; he says that, for many alcoholics, hypoglycemia
“precedes and causes” excessive drinking.

So how do you beat it? Start
by cutting out simple sugars from your diet, whenever possible.
That means eliminating sugars (white, brown, or otherwise) and
sugar-like products — including syrups, corn sweeteners, white
flour, and heavily-processed foods. And while that might look
like you’re giving up the very best America has to offer, nutrition-wise,
we promise you can live well without a morning bowl of Cocoa
Pebbles and a lunchtime Triple Bacon Cheeseburger and Slurpee.

Other suggestions could easily
fill this book — and a few companion volumes. We’re not going
to do that. We only want to encourage you to start yourself on
the process. Notice the effects that different foods have on
you and your feelings. From then on, it’s your experiment.

Still, we don’t want to understate
our case, either. What you put into your body does have a very
definite effect on the way you think and feel.

Overlook the relationship at
your own peril — and the risk of your complete recovery from
drugs or alcohol.


To know and
to act are one and the same.

— Samurai

The other side of the physical
input-output equation is exercise, because the flip side of the
energy we consume is the energy we expend. And the energy we
expend in recovery is every bit as important as the energy we
take in — and stop taking in. In fact, it may even be more important
for lots of people, for the simple reason that one of the clearest
channels for quickly increasing endorphin production in our bodies
— and good feelings in our minds — is through exercise.

The relationship has only been
established for a few years, but it’s clear: If you want to feel
better about yourself, do something.

What you do, exactly, doesn’t
seem to matter as much as it once did. Early endorphin research,
for example, centered on running (which is why the phenomenon
came to be known as “runner’s high”). But today, researchers
believe that any exercise that raises cardiovascular output substantially
above the resting rate for a period of 30-60 minutes is likely
to increase endorphin levels — and enhance mood.

So do what feels natural to you.
If you’re wired or otherwise stressed-out, run. If you like to
dance, join an aerobics class. If you’ve ever been interested
in martial arts, sign up for training in karate or aikido. Just
do something — and stick with it.

Because the benefits of exercise
are real. And while they don’t always seem to come easily (especially
at the start), they do come if you work at them.

And the results can be life-transforming.
In fact, there’s good evidence that a regular exercise program
during recovery will even undo the negative psychological consequences
of addiction by throwing the entire addiction dynamic into reverse.

‘Positive Addiction.’ One researcher who’s studied the phenomenon
extensively, Dr. William Glasser, has developed an intriguing
theory around it. But to talk about it, we first need to do a
little background work.

Glasser, a psychiatrist, sees
the basic issue in addiction (and all of mental health, for that
matter) as a contest between personal strength and weakness.
He argues that we choose unhappiness in our lives because we
don’t think we’re strong enough to ask for more of the love and
acknowledgment we need. We’re not stupid, only weak — and “negative”
addictions are one of our favorite ways of proving it.

The problem with negative addictions,
as we all know, is that they end in a downward spiral — feelings
of inadequacy trigger continued use and continued use feeds feelings
of inadequacy and despair, which feeds — you guessed it — more
negative addiction.

The solution? To Glasser (and
lots of recovering people who’ve picked up his “Positive
Addiction” banner), the choice is clear: deliberately choosing
positive addictions to replace negative ones.

Positive addictions do offer
advantages. For starters, they increase mental strength and self-confidence
— unlike negative addictions, which make us weaker and less
self-reliant every time we give in.

They also help structure our
time, filling up hours and minutes that we to devote to drinking
or doping (or thinking about drinking or doping), so there’s
that much less time to create problems for ourselves inside our
own heads.

‘PA’ Activities. So how do you go about getting yourself
positively addicted? You work at it.

According to Glasser, almost
anything that helps achieve an “out-of-mind” trancelike
state of unfocused awareness can turn into a positive addiction,
given enough time and practice. And even though running and meditation
top his list of “PA” activities that people become
addicted to, activities themselves can be active or passive,
mental or physical. In fact, Glasser says only a few basic qualities
seem really essential:

  • You need to perform the activity
    every day or nearly every day — preferably for 40-60 minutes
    a day.
  • The activity has to produce
    immediate personal benefits to become firmly established as an
  • The activity must be noncompetitive.
    Competition puts too much focus on doing it “right,”
    or being better than others.
  • You need to perform the activity
    in a unself-critical way.

Interestingly enough, Glasser
developed his theory prior to the discovery of endorphins, which
provided a scientific basis for understanding positive addiction.
Still, studies since have consistently supported a link between
“PA” as a theory and increased endorphin production
— and mood enhancement — as a scientific fact.

Research into the relationship
between endorphins and a runner’s ability to endure pain have
consistently shown significant increases in brain levels of endorphins
in people who run or work out regularly. Other studies have confirmed
lower levels of anxiety, fatigue, and tension, and heightened
feelings of well-being and self-confidence after as little as
10 weeks of walking or jogging.

So where do you sign up? Right
here, right now.

What do you do? Anything you
want to do.

Although Glasser and others have
pushed running as a near-perfect path to positive addiction,
anything that kicks the body into overdrive works just as well.
Swimming, bicycling, even brisk walking seem to offer the same
benefits as running and meditation, which we’ll discuss in a
slightly different context in the next chapter

If you’d like the benefits of
a positive addiction just realize that “PA” as a self-administered
therapy isn’t for the faint of heart. Glasser estimates that
a minimal involvement of 40-60 minutes a day is required at least
5 times a week, although a daily regimen seems to work best.

Just begin by choosing an activity
that looks workable to you, one that will handle a personal problem
(weight control, for example, or insomnia) so that you get unmistakable
short-term benefits, then stick with it for a specific, predetermined
length of time. Glasser recommends a minimum of six months, but
other studies have shown that a shorter period will do just as

The point is to make a promise
to yourself and keep it — and keep keeping it until you get
the results you’re after and the life you want.

Sound too tough?

Maybe. But thousands of once-negative,
now-positive addicts say the difference is like night and day.

Maybe you will, too.

Table of Contents

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