cover bar Title: Cleaning Yourself Up: A Guide to Getting Your Head (& Heart, Body & Soul) Together for People Who Are Becoming Chemically Independent
Author: Jim Parker
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: April 2002
Catalog Number: 135

..Chemical Consciousness and the Upside's Downside

What goes up must come down. It's a basic law of physics. We call it gravity, but the principle extends further than simply explaining why apples fall down.

It also describes what happens to people when they pump themselves up with chemicals: Eventually, they come down, too.

It's the First Law of Chemical Consciousness -- the old rebound principle. And it holds true no matter what your favorite psychoactive substance is -- or used to be. Coffee or cocaine, alcohol or LSD, sooner or later you come down.

And when you do, you'll notice that the First Law has a corollary: The higher you go, the further you fall. That means that once you do come down, you usually end up lower than when you started.

What do you do about it after the fact? Well, a first impulse may be to use more of the chemical you started with (or even a different one) to get back up (or down) to where you started from. That's one option.

Of course, that ultimately leaves you even further down -- or further up (or off) the wall, if you've been climbing one lately.

The other option is to stop the cycle completely. It's trickier, since it involves effort and patience on your part and requires putting up with feeling down long enough to let your body re-center itself. But it can be done.

That's where we come in.

In this pamphlet, we'll talk about ways of breaking out of the chemical-dependency trap and discuss techniques that can make the withdrawal process easier on your body and mind.

Because even though time is a factor in freeing yourself from chemicals, a lot can be done to cut that time to a minimum, and get you back on your feet again -- one day and one step at a time.

..Body | Mind 101

Mind and body are inseparable parts of the same basic unit; what happens to one automatically affects the other.

That means that getting back to where you want to be will require paying attention to the needs of both.

Once you've gotten over your immediate reliance on drugs and/or alcohol (and you really do have to begin there), start with a general cleaning-up program, like the one outlined below.

It's designed to give your body what it really needs -- exercise, nutrition, and rest -- rather than the chemical substitutes you've been using as your personal gun, whip, and chair.


Poor nutrition doesn't just cause poor physical health. Moodiness, irritability, restlessness, fatigue, and many other "emotional" problems are often directly linked to poor nutrition.

So if you're not eating well, all you're eating is calories -- and potential problems.

But what does "eating well" mean? It means eating the same stuff that your mom probably tried to get you to eat a long time ago: Veggies and fresh fruits and grains.

While you're at it, you might want to avoid heavily-processed foods and anything that contains ingredients you can't pronounce or spell, like polysorbate-60 or calcium disodium edta (whatever that is).

Also, cut back on caffeine and sugar, since they're both almost guaranteed to kick in cravings for whatever you're trying to clear out of your system.

Since chemical use tends to deplete vitamins and minerals in the body (especially the B vitamins), supplements are also a great idea.

It's a tricky subject, though, since all vitamins aren't the same. Some -- like vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins -- are water-soluble, so your body only uses what it needs and excretes the rest.

Other vitamins, though, are fat-soluble (such as A, D and E), and can build up to harmful levels in the body.

If you want to know more, contact a nutritionist or ask someone knowledgeable at a local health-food store.

Remember, though: Everyone has an opinion about nutrition, and what works for someone else (alfalfa sprouts on carob-chip Tofuti?) may not work for you.

So listen to your body. And if you don't feel your absolute best (both physically and mentally), listen some more. There's still room for improvement.


Good-old, made-in-the-shade sleep is another key element in any body-cleansing program.

There's just no substitute for the rest and revitalization that sleep can provide. It'll help you adjust psychologically to the changes you're going through and reduce feelings of burnout in the bargain.

So if you really want to be responsible for yourself -- and you're serious about staying off whatever you've been on -- start giving your body the natural sleep it needs.

If insomnia's a problem -- and it often is for cleaning-yourself-up people -- check out the section on exercise at left.

Here's why: Sleep disturbances become a lot less of a problem for people who are committed to doing whatever it takes to handle them. You'll be surprised, for example, at how easy it is to fall asleep once you commit yourself to a serious jogging or aerobics program.

And besides, what self-respecting ex-dope fiend or alcoholic would want to waste all those free endorphins?

..Body | Mind 201

The second step in recovery involves "re-centering" the mind and emotions to break the habits that contributed to your dependency.

This process can involve taking up almost anything from meditation to mah-jong, but it ultimately requires breaking habits of the past that have kept you from fully enjoying the present without a chemical crutch.

As you've realized by now, chemicals don't "solve" problems. What they do is insulate us from problems -- which may feel nice for a while, but which rarely resolves anything. By managing problems with chemicals we forget other, more effective ways of dealing with them.

Now, you're going to have to teach yourself all over again. And the best -- and possibly the most all-encompassing -- place to start is learning to manage stress.


One of the biggest reasons any of us ever had for self-medicating with drugs and alcohol is something we all still have to deal with: simple tension.

It's usually one of the biggest pieces of excess baggage that recovering people carry around, and something each of us needs to unpack in one way or another, sooner or later.

The big question for most newly clean-and-sober people is this: How do you start unstressing when you're an expert at dis-stressing?

For starters, you need to learn to identify tension and beat it to the punch. Then, if you've gotten used to clobbering it with something pharmacological (say, a six-pack or a joint after work), find a new way.

You might try something as simple as taking a shower, for example, or learn a meditation technique.

Don't know any? Then check out the box below. It describes a stripped-down, no-frills approach to meditation that answers another age-old question about the mind: How do you turn the damn thing off?

Just remember -- the ability to cool yourself out psycho-emotionally (whether through meditation or not) is like everything else: Practice makes perfect.

..New Directions

If you're newly drug-free, we have good news and bad news about your life: It's yours again.

Now, all you have to do is make it worth living.

How? The details are up to you, but it's probably going to involve change, and it might not be fast or easy. But, it is worth it.

Because even though change can look more threatening than the everyday grind (no matter how monotonous and frustrating the everyday grind may seem sometimes), it's part of life.

And if you stop and think about it, you may realize that the best, most exciting, most gratifying fun times in your life involved the most change -- and often, serious change.

So go out and try something new -- aerobics or aikido, web-surfing or white-water rafting -- whatever looks like it may help you connect with the future you want to live.

If you look hard enough, you'll see alternatives to an unhappy, stuck, chemically-dependent life everywhere.

In case you'd forgotten, you're a unique person who's perfectly designed to go out into the world and discover what you need -- and what needs doing.

Now all you have to do is go out there and do it.

..Sidebar 1 | Running from Problems

Along with proper nutrition, exercise does a lot to tone the body and tune the spirit.

Because not only does sustained activity improve physical fitness, it also triggers a surge in the body's production of endorphins, the chemical messengers that act in the brain to increase positive feelings and reduce stress.

You might have heard about endorphins as the basis for the so-called "runner's high."

It's not hype. Runners do report an expanded sense of well-being after a run.

But increased endorphin levels have been linked to activities other than running. In fact, recent research shows that any intense physical exercise can trigger the same response.

That means that swimming, walking, or almost anything else that gets the heart thumping and the muscles pumping can inspire a major uplift in mood and outlook.

Try it -- even if you don't really feel like it.

After all, you've been doing what you feel like all along. And look where it's got you.

..Sidebar 2 | The 15-Minute Meditator

One of the most up-to-the-minute methods for beating stress happens to be one of the oldest. It's meditation, and in recent years, it's been dusted off and demystified and studied in depth by researchers, who consider it one of the best tools for managing everyday tension and anxiety.

Learning to meditate has never been easier, either. One researcher, Herbert W. Benson of the Harvard Medical School, offers an introduction to the basic elements of meditation in his book, The Relaxation Response. According to Dr. Benson, all you need to do is follow these main points:

  • Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed for 15 minutes or so.
  • Close your eyes and relax all the muscles in your body.
  • Focus your attention on your breathing, and silently repeat the word "one" (or another single-syllable word, such as "calm") each time you exhale.
  • When thoughts intrude, simply return your focus to the word "one" as you exhale.
  • Don't push. The goal is to temporarily turn off the flood of thoughts, judgments, and interpretations that flow through our minds. And while that's the goal, don't realistically expect to do it for more than a few seconds at a time any time soon.

Still, if you try it, stick with it. Benson recommends a twice-a-day schedule (mornings and early evenings work best for most people) if you want to get good at it -- and get the full range of physical and psychological benefits linked to it.

This is one in a series of publications on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation.
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