A few months ago you may have heard Evan Haines on The Skinny Confidential HIM & HER podcast. He came on to discuss the road to recovery, open marriages, psychiatric care, and how our childhood traumas shape us.
He is the co-founder of Oro House Recovery Centers, is a recovering addict himself, and author of his new book Can America Recover?
In this blog post Evan is here to share all of his tools & advice for recovery. He really gets into it. So if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, this is a post you want to keep in your tool box.
With that, let’s welcome Evan to the blog.
Recovery Advice: Tips From Evan Haines
My name is Evan Haines, and I’m co-founder of Oro House Recovery Centers (www.ororecovery.com), a dual-diagnosis treatment center with locations in Malibu and Los Angeles. We were voted the #1 treatment center in California by Newsweek and Statista.
Over the course of the past 11 years, we developed what we call the Compassionate Care Model, which we’ve found to be highly effective in treating both addiction and the mental health disorders that always go hand-in-hand with the substance use.
For me, this work is in my bones. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I really feel like it’s what I’m here on Earth to do. My parents actually met in an outpatient mental health program in 1969, so I grew up in this world. I’ve been immersed in it for as long as I can remember. My mom was institutionalized a number of times when I was a kid. And, sadly, ended her own life in 1989—something Lauryn and I have bonded over, given her similar experience.
I shaped the Oro House philosophy with my good friend and mentor, Bob Forrest—now a friend of Lauryn and Michael, too.
Bob is considered by many to be one of the best addiction counselors who ever lived. Before we met Bob, we thought rehab was all about ocean views and thread counts. Although keeping our clients comfortable with nice amenities is still super important to us, Bob taught us that things like high quality clinical care and especially the amount of kindness and compassion we show our clients are what is going to have the greatest impact on the likelihood of their success.
Seeing that the addiction and overdose epidemics, and the mental health crisis in America more generally, were only getting worse, not better, Bob and I could not find a way to be satisfied with the traditional take on addiction and recovery. We just couldn’t. We knew something else was going on. Being the iconoclasts and antiauthoritarians that we both are, we had a feeling that the problem—and by extension, its solution—might even be the exact opposite of what people think it is.
Bob and I were so convinced that we’ve been getting it all wrong that we wrote a book, Can America Recover? Reimagining the Drug Problem, arguing just that. Of course we’re always going to be interested in comforting and caring for our clients, each of whom have a unique story to tell.
All our clients are assigned a care team who does just that:
Helps them work through issues in their personal psychology, ultimately by learning to tell a new story and create a new life. We aim to empower our clients and put them in the driver’s seat of their lives. But for us personally, we found that we were more interested in treating the culture. Since it’s the context within which addiction occurs that is where the real problem lies. So that became the focus of our book.
In Can America Recover?, we trace the brutal and violent history of our treatment of people with mental health problems in the West. An ugly tradition that eventually found its way into the rehab world. As a result, addiction treatment is typically done in a punitive, ‘tough love,’ tear-em-down-to-build-em-up approach. It even had a name: ‘attack therapy,’ a technique where the identified patient is sat down in the middle of a room, encircled by their peers, who then go around and list the person’s numerous defects. Although attack therapy is generally no longer used (except in certain low-income and adolescent facilities, interestingly) the attitude nevertheless persists.
There is a longstanding, if unconscious, hatred of addicted people and people with mental health problems in the West.
This hatred is a projection of our culture’s fear of anything irrational and our obsession with work and productivity. As well as very old ideas about who God loves and doesn’t love. Scratch the surface and these kinds of assumptions can always be found.
Having framed the problem like this—completely backed by all the latest research in developmental psychology—with so much of our mental health and addiction problems being caused by our environments, shaped by the relationships that they were a response to, where does this leave the individual?
Surely there must be things we can personally do to feel better, to recover a sense of ourselves, and to be empowered to transcend the trappings of a culture that has clearly lost its way. After all, doesn’t all great cultural change begin with actual people waking up and crying out for something new? It’s along these lines that we want to give you five concrete suggestions for both healing yourselves and creating a better world.
The bottom line is that addiction is caused by separation, isolation, disconnection, and a lack of healthy, loving attachments.
This means that our job—both as addiction treatment professionals and as the people who love addicted people—is to keep the following truth in mind: that people with mental health problems, nine out of ten times, were children who were abused, or who at the very least didn’t have the kind of loving attachments they needed to in order to thrive and to develop resilience and good coping mechanisms. Things like emotional self-regulation and self-soothing.
Here are five things we can do to transform our lives:
♡ Boosting Endorphins:
Exercise, even if it’s just walking—maybe especially walking if you ask some people, including myself—is so good for improving our moods and reducing anxiety. This is due to the release of a natural pain reliever that everyone’s heard about before: endorphins, also known as ‘runners high.’
What people might not know, though, is that the word endorphin is actually short for ‘endogenous morphine.’ Endo here refers to endogenous, or ‘inside,’ and -orphin refers to ‘morphine.’ So the word endorphin simply means our body’s own production of morphine-like compounds.
Everyone knows we have opioid receptors—that’s why opioid painkillers work so well on us. Because our brain is wired to receive them. But why would a brain that developed hundreds or thousands of miles away from the nearest indigenous poppy plant be so ready to respond to those particular compounds? It’s because our body already produces them on its own.
Exercise is one of the surest ways to produce these neurotransmitters. But so is good company, nature, and laughing. This means that the very best thing we can do for ourselves is go for a walk with a light-hearted and good-humored friend in nature.
Other ways to boost endorphins include: meditation, good food, chocolate, hugging and cuddling, sex, music, showing and receiving kindness, taking hot baths and cold plunges, sun bathing, being in the ocean, dancing, and getting a massage.
♡ End intergenerational transmission of trauma through therapy:
Unless you’re descended from royalty, your family line has experienced great hardship and off-the-chart stress levels. Members of minority groups; victims of wars, plagues, famines, land-clearances, and slavery; survivors of genocide and even, going way back, every ancestor who had to defend themselves from predators out in the Savanah. This stress altered our bodies. And the resultant genetic predisposition and risk profile is handed down to us, both genetically and epigenetically, through behavior modeling and cultural conditioning.
No two areas of research have made such earth-shattering, paradigm-shifting contributions to our understanding of developmental psychology than neuroplasticity and epigenetics. When we look at these two fields in the light of what we have learned about the impact of adverse childhood experiences over the past 25 years, what we find is that context matters a great deal, specifically, accumulated social transactions between genes and the environment.
Epigenetics works through a process of chemical transformation of gene expression by virtue of DNA methylation and histone modification. Given the key role played by the environment, the study of epigenetics has led to the creation of a new science called “social epigenetics.” No longer do we believe that brains and genes come pre-formed, writing our fates in stone before we are even born. We used to believe that neuronal activity determined all behavior and psychological phenomena. And that neuronal configuration had in turn been determined by one’s genes. This view is known as “genetic determinism,” the idea that genes in and of themselves constitute the bedrock qualities of organisms. The environment was never completely discounted. But the interaction between environment and gene was understood to be “weak” at best.
The old genetic reductionist view held that genes prefigured one’s development, that everything was programmed in advance.
What research into epigenetics has found, instead, is that, if anything, genes are actually followers. We now know that genes are either expressed or not expressed, switched on or switched off. Based on influences from the environment, or ‘epigenetic signatures.’ This process begins before conception, is shaped by the parents’ experience. Then passed down to future generations.
And so it is our responsibility, through high quality therapy, to alter the course of our lineage. And by extension, the very destiny of the species. We are quite literally here to complete the unfinished business of our parents.
♡ Join a Cause:
There’s an old proverb that says, ‘it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.’ There’s a lot to complain about in the world today. There’s so much suffering. We can feel helpless, hopeless. And we can find ourselves doing nothing but complaining about it. Yet it’s so easy to join the already-existing efforts people are involved in to change these things. We must search our soul for the thing that speaks to us. Is it the environment, children, whales? Volunteering is not only a great way to interact with those being served. But with others who care deeply about the world.
It’s so easy to despair nowadays, it’s become almost a cliché to be jaded and calloused.
So the truly revolutionary thing to do is to care. For many of us, that kind of empathy may be like an out-of-use muscle that has atrophied, that we need to slowly stretch and exercise back into shape. But once we’ve tapped into the healing power of compassion—healing for both ourselves and others in the process—we will never look back. And we’ll wonder why we waited so long to do it.
What the science shows us is that acts of generosity and other-oriented, pro-social behavior tones the vagal nerve, which is responsible for self-soothing and emotional self-regulation. It is quite literally an escape from the ‘self,’ which has become an all-consuming obsession in this selfie-oriented, ruthlessly competitive, hyper-individualistic culture we live in. It turns out that good old-fashioned caring is the antidote to a world gone mad.
There is a whole body of research in behavioral psychology that demonstrates there’s a “warm glow,” a dopamine rush, that is produced by helping others and doing good in the world. Exactly what produces this “warm glow” will vary for everyone. So it’s important that each of us finds that thing that makes our heart sing. Maybe our work is solitary, maybe it’s as part of a group. Bottom line, it turns out there is so much joy to be found in saving the world—find where your efforts might manifest the most joy for you.
♡ Become aware of how we effect a room, how we play a hand in creating reality in relationship:
We increase dopamine and serotonin in ourselves and in others by bringing light to situations. Quite literally ‘lighting up a room.’ We can change our own moods and that of others in an almost magical, invisible process through which our energy is transmitted through a field that, despite our not being able to see it, exists between all of us. This mysterious connection has been called many things: limbic resonance, neural entrainment, brainwave synchronization. We co-create this field all the time. So we need to start seeing ourselves as crafters of this very important reality that takes place in the space between us. We literally create the collective experience of Life together. Hopefully this is the next frontier of the ‘manifestation’ craze. Imagine—if one person can manifest so much abundance on their own—what two can do, imagine what dozens, and hundreds, and thousands can do.
♡ Read books, find a tradition, or make up your own:
Wherever you live, you should be able to find a metaphysical or New Age bookstore. Go there, browse the sections, talk to the staff, pull books off the shelf, and randomly flip through them. Find the ones that speak to you. Follow that thread wherever it might lead. Look for the source texts that those teachers cite. Go down the rabbit hole. You will find that the deeper you go, the more magical the world will become.
The times we live in value only rationality, reason, science—these faculties are great, they are gifts, and there is certainly nothing wrong with any of them.
The problem is what we have traded for them—the irrational, the mysterious, and the weird. Many of us have forgotten what it was like to be a child. Full of wonder and awe. And it is a great detriment to our collective mental health. Imagine what the world would be like if it were alive, enchanted. If it had an intelligence, and if it spoke to us through symbol and metaphor.
Consider for a moment that we are made up of carbon and other elements that came from exploding stars. That we are on the outer edge of a Universe that began in a massive explosion 13.8 years ago. In the beginning, there was only clouds of hydrogen and helium. There weren’t even any stars for about a quarter of a billion years. And those first stars were made of only hydrogen and helium—still the most plentiful elements in the Universe. Those stars had to explode after a couple of billion years to make more elements, to make new stars, which also had to explode to make enough elements to form our star and our planet and our bodies. We are made from those building blocks of Life. We are it, indistinguishable from that mysterious, powerful, source of all Life.
Ours has been called the Age of Despair. There is plenty to be upset about. Trauma and abuse seem to be the norm. Young people, especially, are openly questioning what the point of it all is.
We want to make the case for hope, for there being a better future.
We have the resources and know-how to create paradise on Earth. And we get so deeply entrenched in the habits of our customs and traditions that we have a hard time even imagining what such a world would look like. We grew up being told that this is just the way it is. That no one ever said life was fair and all that.
But there is so much we can do. Taking care of ourselves and each other is a radical act in this world. Slipping back into unconsciousness and the pain-free state that drugs provide us with is too easy. So being in recovery and helping others become revolutionary. Rejecting toxic individualism, adopting an attitude of awe and wonder, coming into our bodies, listening to what the body needs, what the world needs, and creating a life in response to what we hear is our untapped, secret power. We hope that we’ve inspired you to look at addiction and recovery a little differently. And that you find some benefit in the tips we’ve outlined above.
Don’t despair, it gets better. We love you.
We hope you guys loved this post & gained a better understanding of addiction & recovery in our world today.
Again, if you want to listen to Evan on The Skinny Confidential HIM & HER podcast just click the button below.
x, The Skinny Confidential team.
+ for more on addiction, check out this post from Alexis Haines.
++ stalk Dr. Andrew Huberman’s ice bath tips & tricks.