Friday, February 13, 2015

Musings on Love and Addiction

By Deborah Schiller, LPC, CSAT-S, CMAT, NCC

I have always loved Valentine's Day--every ritual that accompanies the day delights me. When I was young, my mother would place a nickel under each of the kids' breakfast plates, one for each year of our ages. She would serve a hardy breakfast because she knew we would be eating sweets the rest of the day at school. I loved those family traditions. I loved making and exchanging the valentine cards. I loved reading them again and again throughout the day.

Valentine's Day is still my favorite holiday. It is a beautiful celebration of love. I work at Gratitude at Pine Grove helping sex and love addicts. Even though I have seen some of the devastating outcomes from compulsive relationships gone badly, I still honor and cherish love. Working with individuals who "love too much" might sound like an unnecessary profession; how can there be such a thing--love is good, isn't it? How could anyone become addicted to it? The truth is, "love addiction" might be a misguiding term. I wish there was a better way to describe the powerlessness love addicts have over their emotions and the ceaseless longing for connection that produces troublesome behaviors.

Being in love is a wonderful thing. We feel stronger, happier, and more energetic. Our feet barely touch the ground when we experience romantic Love! Love inspires poetry, music, and romantic letters. Our hearts are full when we are in love, and life is great. It becomes natural to see things in an optimistic light. Researchers have discovered that there are strong chemicals flooding our brains during the early stages of being in love causing this brain state.

Oxytocin, a hormone once thought to be only present in the brains of mothers during childbirth and when nursing is now known to be a powerful influence in the brains of people in love. This chemical is known to engender feelings of connection and belonging. It a chemical associated with empathy. Dopamine is another chemical present when we are high on love, so to speak. This neurotransmitter gives us a sense of wellbeing and enables us to feel pleasure. It has been shown that even hearing your cell phone chime can result in additional dopamine flooding into your brain, especially if it might be a call from that special person. That is, it's the reward chemical in your brain that signals to us, "this is a good thing!"

Does knowing that something as magical as romantic Love can be broken down into its chemical components take away its magic? The answer is no, not if you are the one in love. Unfortunately, for some, the compulsion toward romantic and/or erotic Love completely overpowers their lives. The inability to think of anything else--not being able to eat or sleep--never ends. The fear of losing the object of affection is so great that the person will go to any lengths not to experience (what feels like) abandonment. A person addicted to romantic or erotic Love will tolerate extreme levels of abuse rather than be alone. Often this person will have one or more extra relationships waiting in the wings, just in case something happens to the primary relationship. Sadly, this infidelity can be the very behavior that insures the failures of the primary relationship.

People who struggle with extreme forms of love addiction live incredibly difficult lives. They cannot find serenity, peace, or fulfillment with or without a partner. Because humans are wired to be relational, our brains tell us that any separation from others is to be avoided at all costs. Unless the love addicted individual gets into recovery, a painful breakup is inevitable.

The suffering of withdrawal from a love addicted relationship is extreme. Because every thought centers on keeping the object of love close by, it is difficult to make the first move to get help. Like with other addictions, it is usually a friend or family member who steps in to assist the love addict in getting the care and support s/he needs to break this cycle of heartache. Usually intensive professional counseling, either in an outpatient or residential setting, is required. Getting away from the environment in which the person was so caught up in their obsessive thoughts and behaviors can be helpful.

So go ahead and love fully and truly. Don't be afraid to fall. But if you find yourself putting up with an out of control relationship or staying in an abusive or addictive one, help is available. Ask someone who really knows you to share their perspective on the situation. You do not have to be alone. Love should feel good, like Valentine's Day when you were a kid.

Deborah Schiller is the Program Director of Gratitude (formally known as "Gentle Path"), a Pine Grove Program. She is a native of Huntsville, AL, where she completed three years of study at the University of Alabama in Huntsville before finishing her degree at Montevallo University in Montevallo, AL. Ms. Schiller taught School in Selma, AL for three years before getting her Masters degree in Early Childhood Education from Stanford, University in Stanford, CA. She began her family in New York City and taught in schools in Boston, MA, Huntsville, AL, and Redlands, CA. While raising three children, she returned to school, receiving her second Masters degree from The University of South Alabama, Baldwin County, AL, this time in Counseling. Ms. Schiller completed an Internship at The Meadows Treatment Center in Wickenburg, AZ and became a Therapist there. In 2004, Ms. Schiller joined Pine Grove and the Professional Enhancement Program as a Clinical Therapist. She has since worked at Pine Grove’s Gratitude Program as Primary Therapist and Clinical Director.

About Pine Grove: Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services is an extension of Forrest General Hospital, located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Pine Grove’s world renowned programs focus on treating gender specific chemical addiction including a specialized track for co-occurring eating disorders. Additionally, Pine Grove offers a focused substance abuse healing program for adults age 55 and over. Other Pine Grove specialty programs include a dedicated professional’s treatment curriculum and a comprehensive evaluation center. Pine Grove also features a program for patients with sexual and intimacy disorder issues. Pine Grove was established in 1984 and has provided nationally and internationally recognized health care for over 30 years. Please visit or call 1-888-574-HOPE (4673) for more information about Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Getting Un-stuck

by Dr. Tony Calabrese and Patricia Calabrese, PMH-NP

How do we get stuck, and what can we do to get un-stuck? Getting stuck, at first glance, is not nearly as bad as it sounds, and can have some benefits. Being stuck emotionally, means not making any decisions, staying clear of wrong moves, putting in zero effort, and avoiding negative results. Being stuck also means stagnation, a solid routine, and a life without excitement. Being stuck is a place where resentments grow because important decisions are made for us, and attempts at asserting ourselves are challenged.

Of course, there are times of high stress and busy chaotic schedules when people yearn for a dull moment. However, this is different than being stuck. Being stuck usually means living in a stagnant, sometimes unhealthy state. It provides us with certainty, but also leaves us feeling trapped. An adult child living with his parents, working a dead-end job, or using credit cards to pay for everything are situations tied to an economic downturn, but nonetheless are indications of being stuck.

Getting un-stuck requires we assess the reasons we are stuck. Maybe it’s fear, fatigue, indecision, or a lack of knowledge and skills. Next, we have to develop a thoughtful plan of action to clear any barriers. Finally, we have to execute the plan. Most of us are stuck for an instant, before spreading our wings. For instance leaving home, no matter the economic conditions, is something most of us must do at some point in our lives. Even if done right, this change involves angst and most big decisions do. But momentary angst is replaced by feelings of accomplishment which creates self-esteem; which is how we achieve it, since Walmart doesn’t sell self-esteem in a jar.

Dr. Tony Calabrese is the Director of Psychology and Outpatient Services at Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services. He also serves as the Chief Psychologist for the pre-doctoral Psychology internship training program. Patricia Calabrese is a licensed Mental Health Nurse Practitioner and she currently treats children and adolescents at Pine Grove Outpatient Services. She has a professional interest in ADHD and parenting education.

Visit or call 1-888-574-HOPE (4673) for more information.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Everything in Moderation, Including Moderation

By: Venkat Baskararajan, MD
Psychiatrist, Outpatient Services

The saying, “Everything in moderation, including moderation” in a way refers to human need for indulgence and excess from time to time. All of us can remember eating a little more during Thanksgiving, having a couple of extra drinks or partying a little late, or just waiting up for Santa past our bedtime. All of these little things make the holiday season more memorable.

When the excess and indulgence lasts more than a few days in a row, this can stress out our body. Our body and mind are not independent of each other, so any stress on the body reflects on how we feel or think. So, it’s important to watch out for stressors and have some balance.

Some common stressors during the holidays & how to deal with them:

1- Eating too much or too little

"Those who think they have no time for healthy eating will sooner or later have to find time for illness."

Thanksgiving wouldn’t feel complete if you didn’t stuff yourself, but on most other days it’s important to eat right. Just don’t keep treating yourself to the candy bowl or cookie jar that’s laid out for guests every time you cross the living room.

For a lot of people it’s important to look their best during the holidays and wanting to shed a few pounds before the family photograph gets taken. Starving yourself or skipping meals for days or weeks together can add up to a lot of stress. This sometimes may even backfire and lead to emotional eating. Healthy foods and eating at proper times can give you the body that you need.

Eating unhealthily for days at a time has been shown to make people lethargic, down or irritable. So make sure to eat healthy.

2- Sleeping too little or too much

It is very easy to get thrown off your schedule during the holiday season. You may end up sleeping too little as you may be doing some extra cooking and cleaning.. Or you may end up sleeping more because you don’t have to go to work.

On an average we need 7-8 hours of sleep, but it varies from person to person. Variation in sleep for more than a few days is a huge stress and can lead to mood swings, irritability, anxiety or depression. Not to mention worsening of blood pressure or blood sugar if you hypertension or diabetes.

So try to get a good night’s rest at least 5 nights a week.

3- Having unrealistic expectations

One the biggest causes of mental stress and anxiety is the need for everything to be perfect during the Holidays. Wanting to find the perfect gifts or trying to have the home decorated perfectly can cause a lot of worry but to some extent are in your control. Wanting the flights to be on time, wanting the traffic not to be horrible, wanting friends and family to be on time for the party and expecting everyone to behave perfectly are things beyond ones control.

Remember that holidays are a time for compassion and giving. If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete. So don't beat yourself up for not having everything perfect or get angry if things did not go as planned.

Taking some deep breaths for one minute a few times a day can do wonders in alleviating your anxiety. Meditation can also help relieve stress and anxiety.

So have some fun this holiday season but try to also have some balance in taking care of your mind, body and spirit so you can enjoy the holidays to their fullest.

Dr. Baskararajan graduated from Adichunchanagiri Institute of Medical Sciences in India in January of 1999. He completed his residency at University of Mississippi Medical School in Jackson, MS. While at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Dr. Baskararajan represented the Psychiatry Residency Training Program at the resident symposium hosted by Emory University in 2008 and served as an active member of the residency administrative committee. Dr. Baskararajan joined the Pine Grove staff in 2009. He currently sees adult patients in an outpatient setting for assessment and medication management.

Visit or call 1-888-574-HOPE (4673) for more information.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Truth About Ourselves

By: Philip Hemphill, Ph.D.
Program Director: Professional Enhancement Program

Are we really interested in knowing the truth about ourselves? With all of the innovative social platforms that people can use to present themselves today, a new global self-esteem issue has also risen. People can choose the way they are portrayed to others on the internet on sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and the list goes on. Instead of offering an opportunity to socialize and share, this behavior has been received with intense judgments of all sorts- both internally and externally.

Some social media users have been found to alter photographs of themselves, lie about weight or careers, and even invent relationships with made up accounts in order to self-promote and satisfy their need for acceptance. Some users follow hundreds of strangers’ accounts in order to increase their social circle, and thus receive more feedback. There is a plethora of accounts that are not people, but are made specifically for real users to “follow” so they in turn can increase their own follower count by association. The vast influx of followers increase activity on one’s page and further satisfy their need for attention and appreciation.

Recently, the conjunction of social media and self-esteem has taken a more serious turn as individuals with real mental health problems have taken to social media to aid these desires. Some “tags” have been removed from sites like Instagram because masses of adolescents were using the site to find and share “thinspo”, or “thinspiration”. When adolescents are so impressionable and have such a wide variety of opportunities they can choose with the click of a button, it is no surprise that things can get out of hand should a behavioral abnormality evolve.

An odd development occurred on the website Reddit, an entertainment, social networking, and news website that allows users to upload their own content. The content can become a worldwide phenomenon due to the close knit community of users. Nonetheless, there is a place for any and every type of information, stored on its own topic specific page called a Subreddit page. One Subreddit page caused backlash because it was titled “AmIUgly?” Anyone can anonymously post their photo and more anonymous users can vote accordingly. There are over 45,000 subscribers.

Why would someone ever want to ask Reddit to judge how attractive they are? We all saw this scene from ‘Social Network.’

This page obviously sparked a strong response from the mental health community and the rest of the internet, as individuals with eating disorders were the highest population posting and being judged by thousands instantly. The reason for the attraction to this frenzy which obtains followers is to receive the most feedback possible from others which can confirm a grossly distorted belief system.

If you were to ask your coworkers how attractive you are do you think you would get the most honest answer? There is a level of safety in no one knowing who you are while judging you, and there is an assurance that people will answer you truthfully because you don’t know who they are. Thus explains the irony of social media and true social interaction. People misrepresent their real selves- for whatever personal reason- on social media profiles, and then in order to receive some real feedback, everyone else dishing it to them must be anonymous.

The Internet and the world of instant socializing are here to stay, what really needs to be done is the setting of standards in our own community. When it’s realized that the invincible feeling that anonymity brings can be harmful to others, we can stop feeding the egos of those who have self-esteem or even worse issues. When we stop being superficial in our use of social media ourselves, we can start using it for what it was created for- enhancing actual and fulfilling interaction.

Dr. Hemphill is the Director of the Professional Enhancement Program at Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services. The Professional Enhancement Program (PEP) is a comprehensive continuum of integrated behavioral health treatment services for professionals offered through Pine Grove, one of the nation’s leading treatment facilities. PEP is designed to help professionals with addictions and addictive illnesses, disruptive behavior, boundary violations, personality disorders, interpersonal difficulties, and vocational issues.

Visit or call 1-888-574-HOPE (4673) for more information.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Halloween Poem

By: Allison Sutton, Program Coordinator for Pine Grove's Evaluation Center

It's Halloween and the moon is bright, See what can't be seen on any other night.

Now is the time for goblins and bats, Halloween spirits and lots of black cats. Skeletons, ghosts, and grueling ghouls, with grinning goblins fighting duels.

Zombies are rising from their tombs, and witches are flying on magic brooms. With all the weird-happenings and witches brew, These are the things Pine Grove wishes for you:

May you remember the life you regained, When you accepted the things you could not change. May the tricks that you play or have to do, Be a trick to help gain a sponsor or two. And may the only spirit you chance to see, Be the spirit of strength, hope, and recovery.

We remind you with this little rhyme That life gets better "one day at a time." No matter your recovery routine. Pine Grove wishes you a safe and Happy Halloween!