Today we speak with Allan Kehler, a Canadian teacher, motivational speaker, and author of the book: Stepping out from the Shadows: A Guide to Understanding & Healing from Addictions. He is passionate about the areas of addictions, mental health, and positive living. A highly reputable speaker, his writing has been published in several national magazines, he has worked as an addictions counselor and clinical case manager, and he has instructed addiction-related courses at different colleges.
ADDICTION BLOG: Thanks for your energy and interest in talking with us, Allan! We believe that in order to begin a path of recovery, you have to first understand addiction. So, what are some of the most important things someone recovering from drug abuse needs to know?
ALLAN KEHLER: I couldn’t agree with you more. It is impossible to address something if there is no understanding. Having said that, knowing is not enough, and it is essential to start doing.
An individual must be active in their own recovery. It is also important to be honest with self. As the saying goes, b.s. only harms ourselves. The person must want to achieve recovery for themselves, and not anyone else. It is also important to understand that initially cravings can be intense and overwhelming, but these are normal and will eventually pass. Lastly, recovery is not something that has to be done alone, and it is essential to reach out to others in times of need.
ADDICTION BLOG: You talk about empowerment and setting goals in recovery. How can self-confidence and new perspectives give people a new chance in life? How can someone start to set goals in recovery?
ALLAN KEHLER: Early in recovery I have heard many addicts state that they feel like they are in a black and white movie. They struggle to feel joy and have a “blah” feeling. However, color can be restored.
A clear mind allows the fog to lift and an individual’s entire perspective on life begins to change. The tunnel vision that comes along with addiction disappears. For example, during a walk one can actually see the trees and feel the life that is taking place all around them.
Achieving any goal, no matter how small, allows self-confidence to begin to grow. It feels good to achieve success. Simply select something of meaning that is attainable, has a timeline and can be measurable to determine that the goal has been achieved.
ADDICTION BLOG: In your videos, you often talk how suppressing emotions is stopping individuals from moving forward. How can addicts in recovery face what’s inside when they are too scared to look?
ALLAN KEHLER: It takes an immense amount of courage to turn one’s attention inwards and take an honest look at what is taking place inside. Anytime that an individual allows themselves to feel, they make a connection with their body. The act of feeling can cause great discomfort, but it is crucial to remember that the act of feeling will not kill you.
Feelings can be expressed through many forms including talking, writing, or artistic expression. These expressions allow some of that darkness to escape which will in turn make more room for light.
Attending support groups such as 12 step programs can allow a person to hear that others are experiencing similar thoughts and feelings. These groups also provide a safe and confidential place to share what is going on inside.
ADDICTION BLOG: How is acknowledgement of an addiction problem different than acceptance?
ALLAN KEHLER: As an active addict I could always acknowledge that I had a problem. All addicts have the ability to acknowledge the discomfort and pain that their addiction causes both self and others. Acknowledgement, however, does not lead to recovery.
Acknowledgement is the mind’s ability to understand without the body having to follow. Acceptance is the unity of mind, body, and soul when the person is willing to act, and actually work towards recovery. Accepting the fact that one is an addict is one of the greatest hurdles in recovery.
ADDICTION BLOG: Unfortunately, addiction leaves many interpersonal relationships broken. How can family members be less judgemental of addiction and more proactive in a recovering person’s life? How can broken relationships be recovered?
ALLAN KEHLER: This is where information is power. Education allows family members to see the person and not the disease. Support groups such as Al-Anon can be of great assistance for family members to gain a better understanding of addiction. Here, they can also receive words of wisdom from people with similar experiences.
Essentially, family members cannot fix the addict. If the addict does not want change, change will not take place. It is up to the family member to determine what role they want to play in the addicts recovery. Considering that there is usually a lot of hurt and pain, people around the addict have every right to keep their walls up. However, a gate can be opened where they are willing to let the person in at their own pace.
There is a great line that says time heals all wounds. However, time does not heal all wounds unless the person puts in the time. People surrounding the addict want to actually see that change is taking place, not just hear about it. An addict in recovery must ensure that their actions are matching their words. Slowly, trust can be earned back.
ADDICTION BLOG: For those trying to understand addiction, can you explain just what’s going on in an addict’s mind?
ALLAN KEHLER: Addiction isn’t a choice but the behavior is.
As a child, it was never my goal to one day become an addict. Initially, a person chooses the substance or activity, but in time they lose the ability to choose. Addiction causes a person’s brain to become hardwired for pleasure. Their brain is not thinking about basic needs such as food or perhaps even loved ones. Their brain is telling them that what they need is to engage in their destructive behavior.
When someone takes a substance or engages in a rewarding activity the brain becomes flooded with feel-good chemicals. These chemicals stimulate the limbic system, also known as the pleasure center. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that is supposed to balance the limbic system, and is responsible for judgment and decision making. The prefrontal cortex tells us when to stop. Active addiction causes this part of the brain to become disabled, and prevents a person from simply stopping.
ADDICTION BLOG: Why do stigma and stereotypes prevent people from reaching out? How can they fight it?
ALLAN KEHLER: Where is the incentive to speak out if one suspects that they will be met with judgement or perceived to be flawed?
As a professional speaker I have the opportunity to speak to many companies. Here, I find that many employees are reluctant to disclose their personal challenges because they fear that it will prevent them from moving up the company ladder.
Ignorance simply means that people lack the correct information. Education is the tool that allows people to terminate the stigma that exists. When someone discloses any of their personal challenges to us, it is essential that we are free from judgment; full of compassion, and most importantly that we actively listen. We truly have no idea what that person has all experienced along their journey.
ADDICTION BLOG: What helped you most during your recovery process?
ALLAN KEHLER: Talking about my pain and acting on my needs.
As an addict, I struggled to put a voice to my pain. I have learned that our voice is our greatest tool, and it has allowed me to be free from a lot of internal pain that I stored for years. There is nothing like being understood, and self-help groups such as the 12 step program allowed me to be surrounded with people who understood my thoughts and feelings. I stopped running away from myself and allowed myself the opportunity to feel.
ADDICTION BLOG: How is getting “out from the shadows” rewarding?
ALLAN KEHLER: In every way imaginable.
It is an entirely different way to walk through life, and to view the world in which we live. I have been able to live opposed to merely exist. Getting out from the shadows has allowed me to use my voice to speak to others, and share some of the experiences and tools that I have learned. This is my redemption.
ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
ALLAN KEHLER: I feel like when people hear the word “addictions” many people still automatically think about the substances such as drugs or alcohol. I view addictions as any way of living outside of self so that they don’t have to go within. This can include food, work, sex, or even exercise.
Some people will even focus so much on other people’s journeys that they miss out on their own. I believe that we all have our own path that we were meant to walk. The very fact that anyone is still breathing means that they have unfinished business on that walk.