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Four Reasons to Boost Your Heart Health


It’s February and Valentine’s Day is coming. What better time to think about your heart! Why not check out these tips to help boost your health:

  1. A heavier body weight may be linked to heart disease. Compared to people of normal weight, overweight people are at 22% higher risk of having a stroke. In obese people, the risk rises to 64%. This was published in a 2010 report in the journal Stroke, which obtained results from 25 studies involving over two million people. Consider changing your food choices. A healthy diet (check out the Canada Food Guide) is about 80% of the solution. Improving food choices (especially decreasing processed food), eating out less and being mindful of portion size are a good place to start. Remember to start off each day with a healthy breakfast that includes protein. Change it up; variety is the spice of life!
  2. Exercise is roughly 20% of the solution to maintaining a healthy body weight. If your goal is to reach a healthier weight, it is essential that when you exercise, you maintain 65-80% level of intensity for over 30 minutes several times per week. Try doing a variety of workouts and consider exercising with a partner.
  3. Smoking causes major stress on the heart. If you smoke, consider talking to your doctor about getting help to kick the habit. According to the British Heart Foundation, smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack as non-smokers. After a few months without smoking, your cardiovascular exercise will become easier and more enjoyable.
  4. Change your mood! Are you feeling blue? Short days mean less sunshine, and many of us feel down when we aren’t getting enough light. The good news is, just twenty to thirty minutes of moderate exercise can cause the release of endorphins. These endorphins make us feel happy! Exercise may be an effective way to improve your mood!

So this Valentine’s Day, why not plan an active date with your sweetheart? Go skiing, or skating, go for a walk or do an exercise class together! Then go home and cook up some healthy food and savour it!  Take good care of your heart!

Wendy Lee, BA, Kinesiology, has been working in the Physical Health Department at Bellwood since 2009. She has over ten years of experience working in community rehabilitation clinics and in the outpatient orthopedic clinic at York Central Hospital as part of their Physiotherapy team.

Creating Healthy Boundaries

boundaries-2 fence

Recovery from addiction involves the entire family.  An important component to this involves defining and setting boundaries.  Setting a boundary is a life skill, not a quick fix to a problem in a relationship.  This life skill has been made popular by self-help and support groups.  If you’ve ever experienced therapy, you’ll more than likely be familiar with the term “boundary.”  It’s a concept widely used in the field of counselling.

A boundary can be described as what you believe you do or don’t deserve.  It’s communicating personal values while protecting those values from being compromised or violated.  Identifying your boundaries puts you in touch with who you really are.  Essentially, it’s defining yourself in a healthy way.

Boundaries communicate self-worth – “I am worth it!”  We teach people how to treat us.  We all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.   But, if you don’t believe this, you’ll probably find yourself in unhealthy relationships with individuals who take advantage of you, and may even emotionally abuse you, versus relationships with people who respect you, your convictions and treat you in a loving manner.  Boundaries are an effective skill to apply when you’re in a controlling relationship or in a relationship where the other person isn’t taking responsibility for their own life and it’s negatively impacting you and your life.

When setting a boundary, you define or establish your convictions, beliefs and/or values.  In other words, clearly identify what your limit is with the other person.  Only then can you assertively communicate what it is.  Do this in a calm, clear, concise, firm, and respectful manner, without anger.  Choose your words – do it in as few words as possible.  Finally, have a plan of action that supports your boundary, in the event that the other person doesn’t respect your boundary and ends up violating it.  Ask yourself, “What will I do if this person crosses my boundary?”   It’s not about what you will do to that person, but rather what will you do for yourself.  What will the consequence be?  Keep in mind, the only thing we can control is ourselves – our actions and reactions.

Setting a boundary involves taking responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and behaviours.  Only set a boundary that you are comfortable with.  If you’re going to set a boundary, you have to be willing to follow through with the consequence (your plan of action).  Otherwise, it no longer makes it a boundary, but instead, simply a threat.  Recognize that you’re not trying to take care of the other person’s feelings because the reality may be that the person on the receiving end may not like what you are putting in place.  But that being said, you need to protect yourself and your boundaries because no one else will!

There are different boundaries – emotional, intellectual, spiritual and physical.  An emotional boundary involves feelings.  Feelings need to be respected and validated.  An intellectual boundary includes thoughts and perceptions.  Everyone is entitled to their own perceptions; just because someone’s perception is different to yours doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  Thoughts and perceptions need to be heard, but not necessarily agreed with.  Spiritual boundary is the right to one’s own belief system.  This may or may not be religious.  Physical boundaries refer to our own personal space and touch.

Our relationships are most healthy when emotional, intellectual, spiritual and physical boundaries are defined and respected.  Strong, healthy boundaries come from having a good sense of your own sense of self-worth.  It’s a major step in taking control of how you will allow others to treat you.  The benefit is self-empowerment!

Replenishing Vitamins and Minerals in Addiction Recovery

The foods and beverages we consume every day offer an assortment of vitamins and minerals which helps our body function normally.  Although we don’t need large amounts of these vitamins or minerals, the small amounts we get from food plays a big role.

Vitamin-and-MineralVitamins and minerals are micronutrients, meaning they are vital nutrients needed in lesser amounts.  There are many duties that these micronutrients assist in, including normal cell functioning, growth and development, metabolism, disease prevention and energy conversion to name a few.  The abuse of alcohol, drugs, or behavioral addictions such as food and sex addiction can have a substantial effect on overall nutrition.  Some areas that are impacted include appetite, energy levels, motivation to eat, poor food choices and normal digestion and absorption of food.  Due to the interference of drugs, alcohol and poor eating habits, many vitamins and minerals are not sufficiently consumed or absorbed, which can compromise the countless activities these micronutrients contribute to.   As a result, those in active addiction may have vitamin or mineral deficiencies, which can have some detrimental effects in overall health.   There are a few vitamins and minerals that those with an addiction are more likely to have low levels, due the effects of appetite, the quality of food eaten and the substance of choice.


Vitamin and Mineral Deficits in Addiction

B Vitamins

whole grains

There are eight B vitamins, ranging from B1 to B12, all of which are water soluble.  They are transported throughout the body but have no storage sites.  As these vitamins aren’t stored, they are needed on a daily basis for normal functioning.  While each B vitamin has different roles, they contribute to energy production, synthesis of neurotransmitters, normal functioning of the nervous system and other critical tasks.  Food sources of various B vitamins include whole grains, legumes, meats, vegetables and milk products.

Alcohol abuse has an impact on the way that B complex vitamins are absorbed and used within the body.  Alcohol destroys B vitamins, and as a result chronic alcohol use can limit the amount of B vitamins that are available and contribute to a B vitamin deficiency.  Also, those in an active addiction may not be eating well, consuming foods that are processed and refined and lacking vitamins and minerals, or not eating enough due to poor appetite.  With these two factors limiting the amount of various B complex vitamins within the body, there are numerous health consequences that can arise in this population.  Due to the role of various B complex vitamins in the nervous system, cognition and energy conversion, some of the symptoms include headaches, nausea, fatigue or weakness, palpitations, numbness, tingling, tremors or /shakes.  Some of the B complex vitamins that those in active addition are at risk of developing a deficiency includes thiamin or B1, B6, folic acid (also known as B9) and B12.


Calcium, Magnesium and Zinc

vitamin B

Calcium and magnesium are two minerals that go hand in hand, and can be directly impacted by drug or alcohol addiction.  Calcium and magnesium play a large role in the building and breakdown of bone mass and in muscle contraction and relaxation.  Magnesium is one mineral that is used in the metabolism of alcohol, and this accelerates the loss of magnesium.  Chronic alcohol abuse increases the excretion of calcium and magnesium, causing depleted amounts in the body.    In addition, poor eating habits such as consuming foods low in essential vitamins and minerals can contribute to a deficiency in these minerals.  These lower than normal values can manifest as symptoms commonly seen in withdrawal such as tremors, muscle cramps and changes in heart rhythm (Gabbay, 2005).  Due to these impacts on various body systems such as the skeletal system and cardiovascular system, it is important that these minerals are replenished to ensure normal functioning.   Food sources of calcium include dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes.  Magnesium can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains and seaweed.

Zinc is another mineral needed in trace amounts, with important roles in maintaining the immune system, carbohydrate and protein metabolism, and preserving vision.  Like magnesium, it is used heavily when metabolizing alcohol.  During chronic alcohol abuse, zinc is depleted quickly and without any dietary replenishment a deficiency can arise.   Low levels of zinc can affect vision, wound healing, appetite and manifest as depression.  Food sources of zinc include whole grain products, eggs, meat, and legumes.


Vitamin D

milk and eggs

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin with many roles, which includes promoting calcium absorption, bone growth and development, neuromuscular function and boosts the immune system.  Vitamin D is the only vitamin that our body can produce when exposed to sunlight.  However, living in the northern hemisphere where less UVB photons reach the earth during the winter months, means that Canadians hardly produce Vitamin D during this time, increasing the risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency (Statistics Canada, 2013).  According to Statistics Canada, 32% of Canadians do not meet the recommendations for Vitamin D.  Insufficient amounts of vitamin D is a concern for all Canadians, including those in active addiction, and an area that needs to be improved for better health.  There are dietary sources of Vitamin D which are found naturally in fish, egg yolks and milk as well as foods that are fortified with Vitamin D, such as juice, yogurt and soy beverages.   Incorporating these foods into our diet helps to meet Health Canada’s recommendations of 600 – 800 IU/day, to prevent infections and for optimal health.


Variety is Key

In addiction recovery, sobriety from the addictive substance in itself helps to reverse some of the damage sustained, as the toxic effects from drugs or alcohol are no longer present to compromise ones’ health.  Also, consuming a meal plan of three meals and three snacks a day with a variety of foods, helps to ensure that different nutrients are consumed and available to meet the nutrient requirements and restore normal functioning of various body systems.  Canada’s Food Guide for Healthy Eating is a great tool that helps all Canadians understand how much of each nutrient we need, and which foods assist in meeting these requirements.  Healthy eating is such a vital component of addiction recovery, and often times overlooked.  Be mindful of the importance of how of food choices affect addiction recovery, as it undoubtedly fosters a happy and healthy sobriety.

‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’ ~ Hippocrates.

For more information on Canada’s Food Guide, go to:


Gabbay, S. (2005). Kicking Addiction . [Weblog]. Retrieved September 15, 2015, from

Janz, T., Pearson, C.  (2013). Statistics Canada. Retrieved 12 October, 2015, from


3 Reasons Employers Should Be Treating Addiction as a Workplace Illness

When we think of addiction, we often think of people who are deep in the illness. They’ve lost their jobs and seem completely out of control.  And while this is sometimes an accurate picture, far more common is the high-functioning employee with a substance use disorder.  Over 77% of those who struggle with addiction are employed.  And when about 4% of Canadians meet the criteria for a substance use disorder, we have a lot of employees who need help. So why should you, as an employer, consider funding treatment for you workforce? Here are three great reasons:

1. Substance Use Disorders Cost You Money

Blog image 1

The costs of addiction in the workplace pile up. Between absenteeism, increased workplace accidents, poof performance, disability claims, lateness and eventually replacing an employee, we’re talking some serious money here. They are 3.5 times more likely to cause an accident and they function at only two-thirds their regular capacity. On average, addiction affects attendance and performance every three days. As you can see, the actual monetary costs are high, but there are also costs to your work environment and culture. Since most workplaces are collaborative, it’s pretty likely the performance of one employee will affect the performance of their team members. You may even lose valuable people who do not want to work with someone in active addiction.

2. Good Mental Health Means Productive Employees

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When someone receives quality treatment, there are huge benefits to the employer.  Absenteeism drops by 76%, lateness by 91% and productivity soars by 76%. It just makes good financial sense; whatever an employer spends on residential treatment will made up for in the productivity of that employee.  In fact, based on the average Canadian wage of $26.10 per hour, an employer will save $6447.00 per year.  This means that in less than a year, you’ve recouped the cost of our IOP programs.  And in less than 4 years, you’ve offset average the cost of residential treatment. And that’s just the money you save on the individual, not to mention his or her coworkers.

3.  You Help More Than Just One Person

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While we’ve mentioned a lot of figures here, the case for funding treatment for employees is not only about money. When you take care of the well-being of your employees, you show them that they matter. You’re investing in their future, and the future of their family. Addiction can run in families and by helping your employee to get well, you are changing the lives of their spouse, their parents and their children.  And when employees feel that they are and their families matter to you, they are more likely to be loyal, engaged and happy members of your team. Your choice will benefit society too – research shows that addiction treatment is associated with lower healthcare costs and lower crime rates.

We believe so strongly in the role of employers in treatment that we consider them a partner in the process. We provide you with weekly updates, drug screening results, and involve you in any crises management. If you’re an employer who wants to know more about how we can help your teams, please call 647-748-5501 or head to

5 Things you need to know about EMDR, Trauma and Addiction

By Nicole Makin, MACP, RCC

Having found my place in the rooms of Al-anon in my 20’s, I was blessed to find an incredible therapist who was 20 years sober in AA and highly trained in the treatment of trauma. With her support, I processed events from childhood that still overwhelmed me and contributed greatly to my codependent behaviors as an adult. With a sense of safety and trust established we moved on to EMDR therapy, a powerful form of trauma processing, and I rapidly moved from chronic anger, depression and insecurity to a sense of personal freedom and purpose in life that is still with me today. I learned how to inhabit and listen to my body’s messages through prayer, meditation, yoga, diet, exercise and daily affirmations. I reset my nervous system from stressed to calm and confident and was able to develop skills in areas I was deficient in due to traumatic childhood experiences. I went from feeling as though isolation was my only relationship skill to developing a sense of community and trusting myself with a variety of relationships. Now that we offer EMDR therapy in both our Vancouver and Victoria clinics, here are 5 things you need to know about EMDR, trauma and addiction:

1) Growth and development are stunted in addiction.

In treatment we say that a person’s mental and emotional age typically reflects the age when substance use begins. This is also true if you were raised in a home where substances were being abused and poor role modeling was mixed with the stress of living amidst addiction. In either case, the result is that we have a lot of people in recovery with adult bodies who have the emotional intelligence of 12-15 year olds. And like any 15 year old, they are often lacking in interpersonal communication, boundary setting, self-care, managing stress and problem solving. If we want to be healthy and reach our full potential in life, it is our job to become our own loving parent and help ourselves grow up!

2) Addiction and trauma often go hand in hand.

Addiction and trauma are often correlated. Amongst individuals with addiction disorders, many have experienced trauma while many trauma survivors struggle with addiction. What folks with addiction and trauma issues have in common is that we often arrive into adulthood lacking in the personal growth and development skills we talked about in number one. In fact, some people view addiction as a misguided attempt to gain a sense of control over the enormous stress that people experience when they lack the emotional maturity and healthy supports or coping skills to meet normal life challenges in resourceful ways.

3) Trauma effects the functioning of the brain and the nervous system.

Mental health researchers and neuroscientists are widely in agreement that emotional trauma impacts the brain and the nervous system, particularly when it takes place during critical child developmental years. Children and adults who experience trauma often become more sensitive to external stimuli and it is believed that this is due to several factors happening in the brain and nervous systems.  This means that people who have experienced trauma are not as resilient as those who haven’t; they often feel unsafe when others don’t, and their brain can “shut down” during times of high stress.  This means that their brains are more vulnerable to the risks of addiction, and less able to deal with triggers when in recovery.

4) You can learn to be more resilient to life challenges.

The notion of resiliency is commonly discussed in the psychology field and it is believed that regardless of the nature or severity of trauma an individual experiences, certain individuals have the ability to overcome challenges and emerge stronger and wiser. Can we learn to be more resilient? According to the American Psychological Association website (2015), “resiliency is not a trait people either have or don’t have” but rather it is a skill set made up of “behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.”  Bottom line: trauma doesn’t have to stand in your way forever because you can learn the skills you need.

5) EMDR can help!

EMDR is a form of psychotherapy designed to help treat the symptoms of trauma.  It allows a client to to address a traumatic experience that has overwhelmed the natural resilience and coping mechanisms of the brain. The painful memory is reprocessed through an eight-phased technique until it is no longer psychologically disturbing. By working with a skilled clinician, individuals can learn to understand their body’s stress response and how to achieve a sense of calm in the nervous system so that the brain can do the processing needed in order to integrate past experiences and move on with healthy living in the present. EMDR has been shown to be particularly effective in overcoming trauma by assisting individuals to develop the tools to change their state from stressed to calm and to fully process traumatic events so that they are no longer disturbed or triggered by them in the present moment.

If you`re interested in speaking to a clinician about EMDR, please contact 1-250-590-3168 in Victoria or 1-604-734-1100 in Vancouver.

What is Yoga Therapy?

We are so excited to announce the introduction of a new program to our Seattle clinic! Beginning next week, we’re offering a six week Yoga Therapy workshop. Yoga therapy is where mind and body meet. It combines traditional concepts of yoga with Western psychological knowledge and it’s part of our expanding wellness services. Yoga Therapy joins programs like our Walk The Labyrinth Meditation Retreat and our Mindfulness Meditation Workshops. We know that addiction is a cunning disease and you need a variety of tools for a healthy and happy recovery. So what is Yoga Therapy and how can it help?

What is a Yoga Therapy Group?

Yoga therapy is a gentle to moderate yoga class followed by a process group intended to increase mindfulness, self-compassion, breathing and body awareness. It’s a way to begin the reintegration of mind, body and spirit. Our classes are led by an experienced mental health counselor with specialized training in chemical dependency treatment and yoga therapy.

Why choose Yoga Therapy?

Addiction impacts you on all levels; it seeps into your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. Integrating a nourishing and intentional yoga and meditation practice into your recovery can deepen your experience of wellness and healing. It can allow you to access your deepest emotions and has been beneficial to so many people in recovery. Adding a group session after class is the next step, and is what sets yoga therapy apart.

How is Yoga Therapy different from traditional yoga?

Taking the time to process your class with peers and a therapist provides the opportunity to make meaning of the experience.  We often hold onto tension in our bodies, and yoga provides us with a release for this tension. Emotions can bubble up during class that we don’t expect. The group afterwards allows you to put this tension into words and deepen your practice of mindfulness and self-awareness.  Yoga therapy works by allowing the mind and body to work together on processing emotions and healing.

Our yoga therapy groups take place in our Seattle clinic on Tuesdays from 7 a.m. to 8:30 and 9 a.m. to 10:30. This session runs for six weeks, beginning September 1st.  Please note that you do not have to be part of our programs or have any previous experience with yoga to take part, but you do have to be in recovery. Our classes are accessible to all levels of physical ability and are tailored to address the unique needs of each person. Call 206-402-4115 for more information.

Spirituality – What’s the Big Deal?

The destructive nature of addiction

By Lee Hausmann, MA, ICCAC

Originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of Moods Magazine, 

As an addiction therapist and a person who has been directly impacted by addiction, I have been involved in the treatment of people struggling from this mental health disorder for over 20 years. Addiction comes in many forms: alcoholismdrug dependence, sex addiction, gambling, eating disorders, Internet-based addictions, shopping, relationships, and the list goes on. Whether it’s a chemical dependency or a behavioural addiction, the impact on an individual is devastating. It can affect all areas of life, and if not arrested, can lead to death. The havoc addiction creates, and the slow, insidious destruction that occurs, causes an individual to lose, among other things, their sense of self, their identity and their values. The purpose and meaning of life is clouded over by a lens of despair, self-loathing, fear and emptiness. I have heard many addicts in early recovery speak about the emptiness or void that is felt in their hearts: a feeling of disconnect, soullessness, or spiritual bankruptcy.

Spirituality vs Religion


Often when clients first enter treatment, hearing the word “spirituality” can create a visceral reaction. This word is often misinterpreted and misunderstood. It can challenge an individual’s belief system and conjure up prejudices as they associate the word spirituality with religion and God. Part of my work as a therapist is to try to distinguish between the word “spirituality” and “religion,” in an attempt to open clients’ minds and expand their understanding of this topic. It is important to differentiate between the two. Religion is a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects. It is a man-made doctrine. A 12-step phrase states, “Religion is for people that are afraid to go to hell. Spirituality is for people that have already been there.” Unlike religion, spirituality has a wide scope with loose and broad definitions, and is open to interpretation. It is a very personal experience. It can be viewed as a dimension of who we are, the unseen yet vital, animated essence of a person or animal; the intelligent non-physical part of human beings. Whichever way spirituality is defined, there is proof that it is an imperative piece of the healing process if the addicted person is to become well and whole. A person can be both religious and spiritual, however, for purposes of addiction, it is only necessary for people to develop a sense of their own spirituality.

What’s the Big Deal?

Addiction is a complicated, debilitating and destructive mental health disorder that can be fatal, and therefore dictates the need for an equally complex and powerful solution. In other words, the dimension of the solution needs to be equivalent to the dimension of the problem. “There has been an explosion of scholarly and clinical interest in exploring the role that spirituality may play in substance abuse assessment, treatment and recovery (C. Shorkey, M. Uebel, & L.C. Windsor, 2008, 287).” It was reported in Time magazine that from 2000 to 2002, there were more than 1,000 scholarly articles on the relationship between spirituality and mental health, whereas in 1980 to 1982 there were less than 100 articles published on this topic. This growing field of research has substantiated the fact that increased spiritual practices are associated with longer-term addiction recovery. “When individuals experience a “spiritual awakening” as a result of their AA involvement, they are four times more likely to be abstinent than those who reported no spiritual awakening (C. Shorkey, M. Uebel, & L.C. Windsor, 2008, 287).” In my 25 years in the recovery community, the people who have chosen to establish some type of a spiritual practice, such as a daily routine of reflection or meditation, stay clean and sober and begin to positively change their lives. Addiction presents an individual with a choice: life or death? The path of addiction leads to death, but the path of recovery leads to life. And this life of recovery with a spiritual context can begin to include a sense of self, self-worth, self-esteem, self-respect, empowerment, integrity and freedom. And THAT’S a big deal.

Spirituality as a Practical Matter

Often, spirituality is not a very practical matter, especially in early recovery. There are many deep questions, such as: Why am I here? What is my purpose? Is there more to me than just flesh and bones? These may seem inconsequential when an individual is dealing with more pressing matters, such as earning a living, paying bills, attending to children and trying to stay clean and sober. It can be easy to set spirituality aside, putting it off as something to be done at a later time. This can be a dangerous place for an addict, especially when we bring to mind the fact that addiction is chronic, progressive, and fatal if not arrested. Can spirituality become a practical matter and part of everyday life? Yes, it can. For thousands of years, man has acknowledged that he has an invisible aspect to himself, call it soul, divinity or higher state of consciousness. For addicts, an exploration of the spiritual aspect of her/his nature cannot be ignored, if the individual is to get well. What then, is a spiritual practice, how can it be incorporated into everyday life, and what are the benefits of such an experience?

A Spiritual Practice

When I was a little girl playing in the backyard of my family home in Weston, Ontario, I recall my friends and me digging holes for fun in my3yoga mother’s flower garden. As we dug deeper, I began to feel anxiety rise in the pit of my stomach. In my imagination I visualized digging right through the earth to the other end of the world, which was an unknown and frightening place for me. In today’s day and age, this is an absurd idea. We live in a much smaller world today. Countries and cultures are interconnected through trade, exchange of thoughts, culture, sophisticated levels of communication, and globalization. The East meets the West, bringing with it ancient traditional practices of meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and a diverse array of spiritual and mystical practices, writings and philosophies. Therefore, today there is a wealth of information that we can access to help us along this path. How does this actually happen? The following are practices that can create a context in a person’s life to help them begin to grow both spiritually and emotionally:


Spirituality as a process encourages an individual to live in the present moment, learning from their experiences. Everyday life then becomes a school, a place to expand one’s awareness, change perceptions, recognize the positive and negative workings of the ego, and to begin to find one’s place in this world and one’s connection to oneself.

In early recovery when the fog lifts and clarity begins to unfold, this stark reality can be frightening and frustrating. Resentments that were once drunk away are now coming to the surface. Hurt and pain of the past are no longer repressed. This is where the “work” of recovery through treatment, therapy and 12 step groups, begins the process of clearing the wreckage of the past. With perseverance, commitment and daily spiritual practice, positive emotions such as love, hope, joy, forgiveness, compassion and gratitude can replace the darkness of early recovery. Experiencing positive emotions helps to expand our awareness, change our perceptions, and broaden our lives. The journey of recovery or spiritual and emotional growth is one from dependence on outside sources (drugs and alcohol) to developing inner resources and strengths. There is a saying in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, “It’s an inside job.” A spiritual practice is at the root of these changes, leading an individual to live a life of transparency and integrity, where the insides match the outsides, masks are no longer needed, the facade is gone, replaced by authenticity and genuineness. A transcendence of self into a larger reality is where service to others becomes a common occurrence and a necessary part of an individual life.

If there was one message I would like to communicate to all those individuals in early recovery, it would be to take spirituality seriously as an essential element of recovery. And to keep up the practice until the miracle happens. An excerpt from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous captures this
in The Promises:

“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through, we are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness, we will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it, we will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace; no matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others; that feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear, we will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows, self-seeking will slip away, our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change, fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us….”

And THIS is a big deal.

Substance Use and Addiction: What Does Work Have to Do With It?

glasses upCould your job be encouraging a substance use disorder?

Addiction can affect anyone, regardless of their job.  But there are certain fields where substance abuse and addiction are more common, and they tend to have a few things in common. Research shows that high stress, low job satisfaction, long hours or irregular shifts, fatigue, repetitious duties, boredom, isolation, irregular supervision and easy access to substances can all contribute to the problem. But what groups are most affected?.  We know that employees in the arts and entertainment, mining and food services are more likely to report heavy drinking in the past month compared to other employment groups. On the other hand, employees working in healthcare and education are the least likely to report heavy alcohol use. 

Risk Factors Explained:

There are several factors associated with different types of jobs that may lead to an increased likelihood of problematic substance use. Low employee visibility and isolation can be high risk for substance use and misuse. Jobs that involve a substantial amount of travel, and therefore less direct supervision such as some sales jobs, construction or contracting jobs, can lead to increased substance use.  In addition, social and workplace norms around drinking and drug use can also contribute to the problem. Some work environments are more permissive that others and it has been found that perceived acceptability of drinking by coworkers is one of the strongest predictors of drinking behaviour. In some industries such as the food and beverage service industry, alcohol is easy to acquire right on the job, making it easier to consume. Therefore the normative belief that it’s okay to have a drink while at work, coupled with the easy access to alcohol can make it extremely likely that an employee in a bar or restaurant will consume alcohol while on the job. If the employee works every day, it can become a daily habit that can ultimately lead to it’s misuse and possibly abuse.

Another important contributing factor is the issue of employee stress. Stress can come from various sources including physical hazards or heavy workloads, tight deadlines, low job security and workplace conflict. These factors can lead to an employee feeling little or no control over what happens at work. Jobs that offer very little control, combined with increasing demands, can place the employee at risk for substance use as the alcohol or drugs may be the employee’s form of coping with the demands and stress of the work environment. Therefore employers should be aware of possible stressful situations and should emphasize work/life balance with employees.

What to do?

It is important to note that not all employees working in high risk occupations will go on to develop an addiction. Instead, it is likely that a combination of several causes, including construction-workerindividual factors such as genetics, social, cultural, and mental health issues, places an employee at greater risk for developing a substance use problem. In order to minimize this risk, it helps if employers are aware of the common signs of substance abuse and receive adequate training in how to approach an employee that might need help.

It is also important to establish clear organizational policies about substance use in the workplace. Employees need to have clear expectations about workplace rules and repercussions that would follow should an employee choose to break those rules. Employers should also be aware of how the work environment or job features may lead to maladaptive coping or other unwanted behaviours such as drinking alcohol or using drugs. This knowledge could shape the workplace culture such that employees feel empowered to approach a supervisor when concerned or taking some time to rest and recover when feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

So pay attention to the signs.  Try to minimize stress, isolation and fatigue. Work on creating a culture where health and self-care are more important than drinking and using.

Intensive Outpatient Programs: Early Intervention Can Mitigate the Need for Residential Treatment


The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Similar to other chronic illnesses such as cancer and diabetes, addiction, if left untreated can develop into a more severe condition over time.  The negative impact of addiction can range from physical and emotional damage, to severe life impairment and even death.  This progression of the disease can occur over many years, however it often begins with use of a substance to induce a desired mood change.  The discovery of this perceived benefit can then lead to the individual’s misuse of the substanceor using to the point of intoxication in order replicate this sensation.  Substance misuse can further progress as the individual exploits this relationship between the substance use and its desired outcome.  This would be considered substance abuse, and the individual may continue to use the substance even despite the fact that it is beginning to interfere with their life, impact their work or personal relationships.   If not addressed, substance abuse can then develop into a substance use disorder. Individuals struggling with a severe substance use disorder often require a greater amount of the substance in order to feel the same effect as the first use, and negative physical symptoms such as withdrawal may occur if the substance use is discontinued. As the illness progresses the difficulty to stop using the substance increases. 

The development of an addiction is often characterized by negative consequences such as DUIs, performance issues at work or family concern. Some of these consequences can serve as warning signs that the substance use is becoming out of control. By recognizing the warning signs and realizing that perhaps one’s substance use has progressed to misuse or even abuse, an individual can be proactive in avoiding the progression of the illness and prevent further negative physical, mental and social consequences. Early detection of the illness however may require insight into the personal problems that fuel the substance abuse.  Help from a professional addiction counselor may be a necessary means of addressing the substance use issue. It is important to get help and there is a range of treatment options available depending on the severity of the problem. For those appropriate, treatment is possible without having to attend a residential rehabilitation program. For example, mild and moderate substance use disorders can be effectively treated within an outpatient context.  One possible option is an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP).

Components of an IOP include group process and counselling, psycho education on the disease of addiction and recovery, relapse prevention, cognitive behavioural therapy, aftercare planning and substance use monitoring.  The goal of the IOP is abstinence from mood altering substances, and therefore clients will learn to establish relapse prevention tools, but they will also begin to address underlying issues associated with the substance use and bring them to the surface. This can help them understand what is perpetuating the addiction and help to find other means of coping with stress or relationship issues, for example.

Family-SupportdollsAn intensive outpatient program is well suited to individuals who are motivated to address their substance use issues, before they further impact their health and well-being. They are also ideal for individuals who have supportive home environments, with loved ones who will encourage them in their recovery. While addiction is a very serious health issue, the good news is that it can be effectively treated, especially in its early development. Participation in programs such as an IOP, can be an important and meaningful way to address substance use issues before they lead to more severe problems.

Play It Forward for Mental Health Awareness

Mental Health Awareness Show - Hold Mommy’s Cigaretter


Henri Matisse said that creativity takes courage.  That’s exactly how you would describe Shelley Marshall – courageous and creative.  Hilarious is another word you might use.  She’s a comedienne, a mother and a mental health warrior.  And she’s partnered with the Edgewood Health Network to bring her award winning autobiographical play Hold Mommy’s Cigarette across Canada.

This one woman show is the story of Shelley’s life and the impact a history of mental illness has on a family and a young girl.  It’s a story that touches audiences deeply and makes them laugh just as hard. As Shelley says, “I take them on an adventure, both emotionally and visually. There is no denying that my story is tragic, but it’s my story and time and writing without shame has been my comedic relief. Hold Mommy’s Cigarette is not an exploitation of what has happened in my life, but rather, an acceptance of where it may lead. It is a dark comedy, a vulnerable piece about life, mental illness and survival.”

The play chronicles her early life, leading up to her lowest point – a suicide attempt.  Yet fate and her husband intervened, and Shelley survived.  She now uses Hold Mommy’s Cigarette as a vehicle to talk about depression and to showcase how she was able to turn her deep sadness into tremendous success.  It’s an inspiring experience that opens up a much needed conversation around suicide and mental illness.

As a part of the Edgewood Health Network, we’re very proud to be helping Shelley spread her message of hope. Especially since addiction is a disease that often leaves it’s sufferers feeling completely hopeless.

The Edgewood Health Network wants to “play it forward” by giving away  free tickets to Hold Mommy’s Cigarette. We think everyone should have a chance to see this show! Tickets will be available for April 16, 17, 18 and 19 in Toronto.  Go to register and use the promo code EHN.

As Shelley often says, “best life ever!”

Mindfulness: From Distraction to Stillness

Tips For Controlling Your MindStillness.  The calm surface of a lake at dawn.  The silence of an empty chapel.  The soft quiet of a night full of stars.  How we wish at times for our minds to settle, and just be still.  For the pointless worries to stop, that ceaseless chatter.  What we should have done, what we should be doing, what we should be preparing for.  The tyranny of the shoulds.  Our minds are constantly doing, always trying to fix things, change things, make things better.  Trying to close the gap between where we are, and where we think we should be.  From the second we get up in the morning, to the time we fall asleep at night.  What should I have said to her on the phone last weekend?  What can I do about my weight?  All big questions, to be sure, but do they never stop?   Why can’t we shut our minds off?  It’s something I hear in the office all the time.  I can’t focus, doc.  I can’t turn my brain off.  It won’t let me sleep.  It must be ADHD.  Isn’t there a pill you can give me?


Modern society doesn’t help.  There’s always another distraction out there.  Something else to do.  Cellphones, Facebook, Twitter, Google.  More channels on TV.  More ads.  Faster cars.  Better hair.  Whiter teeth.  Another thrill, another sensation.  Don’t stop, or you might miss something. A constant need for ‘more’.  It isn’t hard to see where addiction fits in.


What’s the answer?  How does one stop ‘doing, doing, doing’, and just ‘be’?  How do we learn to control our minds, and not have them running in circles, taking us with them?  For a few, the diagnosis really is ADHD, and treatment for this can help.  For most of us though, the problem isn’t that we can’t pay attention, but that we’ve forgotten how to. This is where the gentle practice of mindfulness can help. Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention, in the present moment, to things as they are.  It’s what happens when you start to notice what’s going on, both outside you, and on the inside, in your thoughts and feelings. Noticing what it’s like to eat an apple and enjoy it, rather than ‘scarfing’ down lunch so fast you can’t remember 10 minutes later what you just ate.  Noticing what your thoughts are, but then remembering that they’re just thoughts, and that you don’t have to react to them.


A simple way to begin being mindful is to take a minute and just focus on your breathing. Try it.  Let your breath be your ‘anchor’.  Notice how each breath in fills you with energy, and how each outward breath lets go of tension.  Sit with your breathing for a moment, and notice what happens.  Let whatever happens happen.  You might notice how the soles of your feet feel on the floor.  You might become aware of all the sounds around you.  Notice it, and then come back to being aware of your breathing.  A thought might cross your mind.  Just notice it, like it’s a cloud crossing the sky.  Then gently let it go, and come back to your breathing.  You don’t have to react to every thought.  Thoughts and feelings come and go all the time, like bags coming down the baggage chute at the airport.  If you choose, you can sit with them and let yourself experience them.   On the other hand, you can let them go, and just come back to your breathing.  You can control what you pay attention to, and for how long.  You can learn to control your mind, rather than letting your thoughts and impulses run away with you.  It’s a skill, which means it takes practice, but it’s a skill worth learning.   And the payoff, ultimately, is stillness.

By: Dr. Charlie Whelton, M.D., FRCP(C), ASAM Certified

Most Important Questions to Ask a Treatment Provider

Have you begun to realize that you need professional help with your substance abuse, gambling, eating disorder or sex addiction? You’ve started to Google and read about various treatment facilities but still are not sure which one to choose.

Bellwood has developed a list of questions to help you choose a suitable addiction treatment centre that will meet your needs. Choosing your treatment provider is one of the most important decisions you will make in recovery.

Addiction treatment is an investment in your overall health. Make sure you understand all the facts!

  1. What are the treatment centre’s success rates? Do they measure outcomes?
  2. Are the success rates valid? What process was used to determine and validate their results? Who was involved?
  3. Is the facility accredited? Did the facility go through an independent health review to evaluate the quality of their services?
  4. Is there 24/7 medical care? Do they offer limited off-site support or full-time on-site support by a medical team?
  5. What are the qualifications and credentials of the treatment staff?
  6. How many years of experience does the treatment centre have?
  7. Will you receive comprehensive care from a multi-disciplinary team? Who will provide the treatment for you? Addiction doctor, therapist, counsellor, nutritionist etc.
  8. Will there be a nutritionist to address your nutritional needs?
  9. What type of help is available for families and loved ones?
  10. Are there continuing care or aftercare programs available? Do they provide programs to help you continue to maintain sobriety once you graduate from your treatment program?
  11. What is the reimbursement policy?

To read a more comprehensive version of this list, please visit the following link: Questions to Ask a Treatment Provider