The Method Behind Our Madness

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Welcome to another Fitness Friday! We are really happy with the response to our articles on Brazilian jiu-jitsu, fitness, and how men’s health in sobriety involves more than just abstinence. For people seeking more information about our emphasis on fitness as a key component of recovery, we thought we would share some of the science that supports the design of our treatment methods at Solid Ground. 

It is only as recently as 2011 that a clinical review by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the U.S. showed multiple studies have “provided convincing evidence to support the development of exercise-based interventions to reduce compulsive patterns of drug intake in clinical and at-risk populations.” The most important breakthrough of these studies is that a fitness program is shown to have biological benefits to not only prevent relapse, but to actually reduce the compulsion of active addiction itself. One of the studies on rats showed that a serious exercise regimen (like Brazilian jiu-jitsu for example) decreases the “positive-reinforcing effects” of cocaine. In other words, the positive biological effects of the exercise make the cocaine stimulation less pleasurable and reinforcing. There is similar research for opioid addiction, with studies repeatedly showing that exercise such as treadmill running “significantly decreases the tendency of using morphine.” The science shows that disciplined exercise can be biologically more beneficial and compulsive, in terms of the reward systems at play, than the most addictive substances commonly abused.

Now, it’s true that rats in cages are not the same as grown men living in the modern world (although sometimes it feels that way!) but our experience working with such men shows time and again how real this science proves to be. The core methodology we have developed at Solid Ground to maximize these therapeutic effects of exercise is to add the element of community. Our program incorporates these physiological benefits in combination with a group dynamic and a shared experience. For many men entering recovery, their physical bodies and fitness levels have been neglected and in decline. By working together to make progress no matter what shape they’re in, our guys build friendships and learn teamwork. In other words, when we are practicing yoga or are training in mixed martial arts together, we’re not only stimulating healthy endorphins that reduce substance dependency, we are maximizing the positive reinforcement of healthy relationships. And as the world is starting to recognize human connections are what recovery really means.

Floating For Recovery

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At Solid Ground we have found mindfulness meditation to be one of the most valuable skills men in recovery can practice. It reduces stress, increases creativity, helps treat depression, and improves overall health.  The sensory-deprivation practice of “Floating” is pretty much super mindfulness—meditating in a dark, silent environment where you are weightless, suspended in a shallow tank of body-temperature saline water. With this in mind, the Solid Ground crew is heading to the Float House to see what kinds of benefits floating can bring. Our mission for the guys is simple: practice all the meditation skills we learn each day in this ultimate meditation environment. Our clients will be floating for up to an hour (they can stop anytime just by opening the door) while they practice a specific assigned meditation, and everyone will share their experiences after. We will do repeat sessions the week after. Results to follow!

Photo Credit: Floathouse Vancouver

Words to Live By: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Founder Carlos Gracie’s 12 Commandments for Life

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How the founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has a philosophy for recovery

Though Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) is widely accepted as one of the world’s most effective martial arts, it is far more than just a powerful style of combat. BJJ offers its practitioners a philosophy of life that can be a powerful vehicle for developing discipline, a profound shift in attitude, and manifesting success in all areas of their lives. We can trace the development of this philosophy to Master Carlos Gracie Sr. who was, along with his brother Helio, one of the founding fathers of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and arguably the person most responsible for BJJ’s current widespread growth and popularity. Master Carlos championed the philosophy of “jiu-jitsu for everybody,” and embedded this philosophy into the cultural fabric of Gracie Barra, the world’s most successful Brazilian jiu-jitsu affiliation.

“Jiu-jitsu for everybody” is the philosophy that almost anyone’s life will benefit greatly from consistently training in a reality-based martial art like BJJ, despite supposed barriers like age, starting fitness level, athleticism, natural ability, gender, and almost any physical or mental disability. Master Carlos set down valuable guidelines for anyone seeking a better life, and we have found them to be truly empowering to addicts in recovery.

Here are Master Carlos’ “12 Commandments for Life” and some of the ways we employ them at Solid Ground as part of our Treatment Program.

1. Be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
Practicing mindfulness meditation is one of the most proven, powerful ways to maintain peace of mind. Every morning at Solid Ground begins with a 30-minute group meditation and grounding practice designed to help clients develop their “observer self”—an indispensable tool that fights addiction by recognizing that emotions and triggers are experiences to be compassionately observed rather than acted upon. A strong observer-self greatly reduces relapse rates.

2. Talk to all people about happiness, health, and prosperity.
For the recovering addict, developing gratitude for the blessings in life can often mean the difference between relapse and continued growth in recovery. In addition to a life-changing shift in attitude, focusing on the positive elements of life is an effective tool in fighting depression and many other mental illnesses that are common among addicted people. We do not ignore the hard work of confronting past mistakes and traumas, but we balance this perspective by identifying what is positive and moving with forward momentum towards that.

3. Give all of your friends the feeling of being valued.
The importance of attachment and connection to the recovering addict cannot be overstated. As Johann Hari  argues, the opposite of addiction is not sobriety but human connection. Active addiction thrives on emotional and physical isolation, and all too often people suffering with it are not skilled at developing healthy, positive attachments. Through intense group experiences such as training and sparring with partners in BJJ, we learn how to appropriately express feelings of authentic appreciation for our allies. This is often the start of powerful, lifelong friendships with the people who truly understand what it takes to beat addiction—fellow recovering addicts.

4. Look at things from an enlightened point of view, and be optimistic about your view of reality.
Negative cognitive distortions can be strong predictors of future relapse. Solid Ground professionals use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques from SMART recovery [hyperlink?] to provide concrete tools clients use to challenge unrealistic or inaccurate negative world views, and to overcome habitual pessimism—two frequent traits of people who suffer from addiction.

5. Think only about the best, work only for the best, and always expect the best.
Setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable and timely is the core of successful aftercare planning. It’s not enough to move away from addiction and substances, to be successful we must move toward achieving the goals and dreams that are expressions of our highest self. By setting these goals on short, mid and long-term timelines clients motivate themselves to begin moving toward their best possible lives.

6. Be just as enthusiastic about others' victories as you are with your own.
It’s a truism to say that addicted people can often be extremely self-centered while in active addiction. Developing a lifestyle that focuses on service to others and helping in their victories is the best antidote to self-centeredness, and the Solid Ground program makes service and compassion between clients an integral part of life in recovery. Time and again we observe that the feeling of purpose and usefulness that comes when a resident helps his fellow in their sobriety and celebrates their progress, is truly life-changing.

7. Forget about past mistakes and focus your energy on the victories of tomorrow.
Addiction ruins lives, and not just the addict’s. People in recovery have universally caused and been subject to financial, emotional, and many other forms of wreckage. To move forward into the victories of tomorrow, the addict must take responsibility for this past and then heal beyond it. Through our Extreme Ownership program we provide clients with a step by step guide to taking responsibility for their own mistakes, and for healing from the deep internal trauma that has often led to addiction in the first place.

8. Always make those around you happy and keep a smile to all people who talk to you.
This is a goal and ideal to work toward, not a standard we are always able to rigidly hold ourselves. Being authentic, humble and kind is what we strive for. As people recovering from addiction, negative social interactions can be challenging and triggering. Yet regardless of how others treat us, we always strive to be positive with our fellows and to keep “our side of the street” clean.

9. Apply the largest amount of your time on self-improvement and no time on criticizing others
Addiction recovery is all about self-improvement, and the Extreme Ownership program teaches clients to avoid blaming others for the situations we find ourselves in. Criticism and gossip is not only counterproductive, it can be a sure road to painful social interactions and resentment. We work to avoid these destructive habits by keeping the focus on ourselves as part of a biopsychosocial plan of recovery.

10. Be big enough so you can feel unsatisfied, be noble enough so you can feel anger, be strong enough so you can feel fear, and be happy enough so you can feel frustrations.
This jiu-jitsu “commandment” is a regular topic of discussion at our group therapy sessions. It seems everyone has a different way of interpreting this and applying it to their lives. Learning to be “enough” that you can live through the great variety of human experience without recourse to drugs and alcohol looks different to every man. We learn a lot about each other and ourselves during these discussions.

11. Hold a good opinion about yourself and communicate that to the world, not through dissonant words but through good works.
This is my personal favorite. Successful recovery is about taking sustained daily action to heal and honour our bodies, minds, communities and spirits, and it is vitally important for our words and actions to align. Without the honesty and integrity that results from aligning one’s actions and words, lasting and deeply held self-esteem is unattainable. Without a solid belief in the power and essential goodness of our own true selves, positive connection and healthy attachment to others simply isn’t possible. Our programs and groups repeatedly stress the importance of this. Progress in something as challenging as the fundamentals of Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a fast-track to helping foster this self-honouring.

12. Believe strongly that the world is on your side, as long as you stay loyal to the best of yourself.
Many addicted people are unaware of the values and virtues that motivate them and have driven their behaviors. Solid Ground utilizes a non-religious, virtues-based system of ethics that helps clients learn about their values and how to develop them into virtues that will guide their future actions in ways that are consistent with their best selves. Living life in alignment with universally held virtues has the benefits of reducing shame, guilt, negative social interactions, and of strengthening the bonds with other people that are vital to lasting recovery.


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Solid Ground is a biopsychosocial, non-12 Step, abstinence-based addiction recovery program built on the proven effectiveness of the best parts of several different treatment modalities. As part of an holistic program of recovery that stresses the well-established connection between body and mind, Solid Ground offers its clients daily training sessions in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and its principles. To learn more about Solid Ground and our program follow this link: Solid Ground Recovery Program

The Benefits of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for Recovery

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When Combined with a Program of Recovery, Martial Arts like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Can Change Lives.

If you are in recovery, and thinking about finding a way to get fit, make clean and sober friends, expand your mind, build confidence, and learn an invaluable skill, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu could be exactly what you’re looking for.

Make no mistake Jiu-Jitsu is hard and it is challenging, but with that challenge comes growth.

As a therapist and BJJ coach, I can say from experience that in combination with a program of recovery, nothing will support your life and help keep you grounded and operating in reality better than Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In learning about yourself and your teammates (aka your bffs, frenemies, bros and brahs, BJJ family, arch enemies) you will build the capacity to overcome life’s obstacles in ways you simply were not capable of before. That is a great fact of martial arts: in building the capacity to meet the discipline’s challenges, you build the discipline to meet life’s challenges. But enough of the abstract benefits, let’s talk about stuff you can measure.  But enough of the abstract, let’s talk about the benefits we’ve learned from running our MMA recovery group at Gracie Barra Vancouver. 

  1. BJJ will get you physically fit and strong. If you’re looking for a workout, there’s nothing like rolling around on the ground in stiff pajamas, wrestling a bunch of other adults. This is especially true when you first start (even the first few years) because you just don’t have much technique, and without that all you have is strength and power. You WILL get tired and your muscles will be sore, and that is how strength is built.

  2. There are some profound parallels between the 12-Steps and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. many of the same principles that the “anonymouses” are trying to teach you are lessons you will also learn in your Jiu-Jitsu journey, but in a very physical way. Powerlessness? Yup, you’ve got it. An inventory of your strengths and weaknesses? Check, if you want to get better you need to identify weaknesses before you can improve them. A higher power? You bet, Jiu-jitsu is the higher power of martial arts and if you stop relying on your natural attributes and start using the techniques and mindsets of Jiu-Jitsu you will soon be doing things that you could not have done on your own power. This is true on the mats, but anyone who trains hard will tell you that this extends into your life off the mats as well.

  3. BJJ builds lifelong community. There are few, if any, activities that require people to be so intimate with each other’s bodies, minds, and (yes, I’m going to say it) “spirits.” The people you train with will become your very best friends, and it’s common to hear people talking about their BJJ families. While this close contact can seem discouraging for some, I encourage you to try and put aside any hesitations you have and try it out—the ugly truth is that modern society isolates people from each other, and like Johann Hari says, it is connection that will relieve us from addiction. BJJ builds connections and friendships like nothing else can.

  4. BJJ builds healthy lifestyles. Most Jiu-jitsu fighters are athletes, and very few people who drink excessively or take drugs train Jiu-Jitsu consistently enough to last long in the art. When your fitness and health help determine the success of your Jiu-Jitsu training, making unhealthy choices around food, sleep, and alcohol and drugs makes a lot less sense. People who train together in Jiu-Jitsu are much more likely to get together for sashimi and salad than for martinis and cocaine.

  5. You will learn to deal with the human stress response in a new and extremely valuable way. Whether you tend toward fight or flight, the pressure that training BJJ puts you under forces you to stay calm during times of crisis and stress. You will quickly become used to adrenaline flooding your body, and you will learn to control your reactions to this—all in a safe environment that encourages teamwork and personal growth. I cannot overstate the importance of this: for addicted people, reacting to stressors and triggers more effectively is often literally the difference between life and death. In this way alone, BJJ can save your life.

  6. You will gain confidence, especially women. Jiu-jitsu is a great lifestyle but at its core it is an extremely efficient style of self-defence and fighting. Knowing that you can defend yourself can build your confidence while also breaking down any ridiculous notions you may have about being a tough guy or girl. The self-defence skills and fitness you gain in jiu-jitsu reduce stress, encourage situational awareness, and can literally save your life (again).

  7. Jiu-jitsu is an art of the mind. Yes you get fit, but more than that you learn to use timing and leverage to overcome much stronger and larger opponents. Strategy, versatility, and improvisation are the main tools of the Jiu-Jitsu fighter, and the mental skills developed during jiu-jitsu training are easily applied off the mats as well.

A Disclaimer (and a Promise). It is very true that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is indeed for everyone, no matter your initial fitness level, but it is also one of the more difficult martial arts to master.  Achieving the level of black belt can often take 10 years or more—and that’s not ten years of showing up once a week to punch some flimsy boards or kick pretend attackers in their pretend groins. Training in BJJ is often intentionally grueling. Jiu-Jitsu is not a theoretical discipline: it is all about being able to apply techniques against real, resisting, skilled opponents in real time. You will get smashed, you will get clinched, you will get other people’s sweat on your face, and you will be defeated hundreds of times by people who look like your little sister or your local librarian. You may be big and strong and athletic, but at first that won’t matter much--only Jiu-Jitsu beats Jiu-Jitsu, and it takes time to learn. In Jiu-Jitsu, you learn to stop pretending to be something you are not—it tests every part of you and shows you precisely who you are. As a therapist, I can often tell more about someone by rolling on the mat with them for five minutes than I can by talking to them for many hours. Starting jiu-jitsu is, without exception, a very humbling experience and there is a steep learning curve; but it’s worth it. I promise.


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For more information about the benefits of training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu feel free to contact me at cshearer@twcrecoverylife.com. If you’re in the Vancouver area and are interested in recovery and martial arts training, come train with us!


To learn more about Caleb and this program follow this link: MMA Recovery Fitness Program

 

B.C. Mental Health and Addictions Minister Addresses Opioid Overdose Crisis

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It’s a step in the right direction that government is acknowledging the need for increased access to treatment programs and facilities. #opioidcrisis Organizations like Together We Can and treatment centres like Solid Ground are already full steam ahead with all hands on deck.

Quote from minister:
“When someone has overdosed and they’re open and willing to consider treatment, (we need to) be willing to move quickly.”
--Judy Darcy, Minister for B.C. Mental Health and Addictions

According to Darcy, the province is working to make treatment “on demand” widely available. People with addictions need to be connected to treatment as soon as possible, she said, but in the event that someone arrives in the emergency room after an overdose, she wants every hospital to have the resources to connect that person to a treatment program immediately.

Read the full article here ->

 

Hockey Helps Recovering Addicts Stay On A Clean Path

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Our Intake manager, Steve Bull, is a former hockey player who has struggled with addiction all of his life. He is now helping those in need by sharing his story, with recovering addicts and also players in the BCHL. Hear him share his story with Barry Deley of Global Television

Watch the full story below.

Where Do Values Fit In Addiction Treatment?

I’d wager that for most people there is an intuitive understanding that values and drug and alcohol addiction are somehow linked. The Oxford dictionary defines values as “Principles or standards of behaviour; one’s judgment of what is important in life.” Values are the ideas and ideals that each of us holds that drive the decisions and choices we make, which in turn determine a lot about the course our lives and relationships take. To some degree values are chosen for us, by our families, teachers and communities, but to a large extent are capable of choosing our values for ourselves—exactly how much we choose versus have chosen for us is one of life’s mysteries, but what is certain is that there is a close relationship between living according to our highest values, and living a fulfilling happy life.

Mainstream understandings of addiction tend to portray active addiction as being synonymous with an abandonment or failure of living according to one’s values. This portrayal is deeply embedded in our culture- from early media representations of addiction like Reefer Madness (1936) and Days of Wine and Roses (1962), to more modern films like Blow (2001) and Winter’s Bone (2010)—the cliché story of value abandonment is everywhere and likely familiar to everyone. In this understanding of the link between values and addiction, as a person becomes more enmeshed with a life of addiction they slowly but surely abandon their values, ultimately becoming a lying, cheating, stealing pariah whose only hope, according to this understanding, is a psychological and spiritual reawakening to a life of living in conjunction with one’s values.

I’d like to question this understanding of drug and alcohol addiction as a separation from a person’s values and as something that defines the realm of active addiction as a life without values. Instead I want to express the idea that active addiction represents a misguided pursuit of essentially positive values, though they are often exaggerated and misapplied. It’s an important distinction and I’ll explain why a little bit later, but don’t get me wrong here- I don’t want to say that addiction doesn’t cause people to do harmful and horrible things that they would never ordinarily do otherwise. What I’m saying is that the belief that addiction is synonymous with or even leads to an abandonment of values is backwards- it’s incorrect and, in an addiction treatment setting, potentially very harmful.

The truth is that the choices people make in times of active addiction are very often based on positive values such as community, ambition, attachment, honor, loyalty, selflessness, courage, family, and even honesty. Unfortunately, in active addiction, when healthy biological, social, and psychological functioning are impaired, these positive and honorable values often become expressed in shortsighted ways that are ultimately counter-productive to the long term goals and interests of the addicted person and their loved ones. For example, values such as community, loyalty and attachment can lead to involvement in criminal activity, gang culture and street-entrenchment. Ambition can lead to violence. Otherwise positive values also frequently work against rather than in conjunction with each other when people are in active addiction, leading to a fracturing of consistent reality and a loss of connection with self and others.

Making the distinction between viewing active addiction as a valueless state verses a state where values are present but shortsighted and in conflict with one another is more than just a semantic exercise. When addiction is seen as a valueless state of being, rather than a state where values are present but misguided, it moves addiction from the physical realm of psychology and biology—maladaptation, sickness and an overarching biopsychosocial view—to the moralistic and punitive realm of good versus bad. Addicted people without values are rationally defined as “bad” in need of becoming “good” rather than as people like you or I, who are in simply in need of becoming healthier.

From a treatment perspective it’s very important to recognize how values played a role in people’s active addiction. At the root of virtually all addiction is a history of trauma and sense of guilt and shame—experiences and feelings that the moral, addiction-as-valueless perspective perpetuates and even exaggerates. By examining addictive behaviours as, ultimately, misguided attempts to express what are actually positive and healthy values it becomes possible to both counteract some of the guilt and shame inherent in addiction, and to find the basis for creating a realistic, achievable strength based, client-lead recovery and aftercare plan. After all, recovery and treatment aren’t about making a bad person good, they are about supporting and guiding a wounded person toward health, community and happiness—addicted people don’t need to find or create values, they just need to be shown they had them all along.