All posts by gabbert2013

About gabbert2013

I have been a psychotherapist for 20+ years. I specialize in Marriage & Family Therapy and addictions. My practice name is Interactions Therapy Center. I've learned a few things over the years and hope you'll find these blogs interesting.

Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

I love to sleep. There is nothing better than a good night’s sleep or a refreshing afternoon nap. And the absence of sleep makes me miserable.

Insufficient sleep can cause mental and medical distress, and mental health problems can cause sleep disorders. The relationship between sleep and mental health is not completely understood, but studies suggest that sleep problems may contribute to the development of some psychiatric disorders. A good night’s sleep helps mental and emotional resilience, and chronic sleep disruptions set the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability. Sleep problems are common in people with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and ADHD.

Adults need 7 or more hours of sleep per night for the best health and wellbeing. This is true for most of us, but there are exceptions.

Thai Ngoc is a Vietnamese man who is best known for his claim of being awake for 46 years. It is hypothesized that this occurred after a bout of fever in 1973, but others believe there was no apparent cause. It is said that Ngoc suffered from no apparent ill effect other than being unable to sleep. He was mentally sound and physically strong. He made a statement in 2006 that he was beginning to feel like a plant without water due to the lack of sleep.

Al Herpin was an American known as the “Man Who Never Slept”. There is agreement among medical professionals that all humans require sleep, and that they do so even if they are not aware of it. Al Herpin was not aware of it and claimed to have never slept. He was said to have been in perfect health and does not seem to suffer any discomfort from his condition. He died at the age of 94. No other person with total insomnia has lived for such a long period. He likely died of other causes, not sleep deprivation.

Severe sleep problems are not to be taken lightly. Fatal insomnia is an extremely rare sleep disorder that is typically inherited. It results in death within a few months to a few years after onset. It has no cure and involves worsening insomnia, which leads to hallucinations, delirium, dementia, and death. It has been found in just 40 families worldwide, affecting 100 people.

More than 70 types of sleep disorders exist. Sleep studies are performed by professionals to assess sleep disorders. These can rule out sleep-related problems such as sleep apnea, seizure disorders, movement disorders, narcolepsy, teeth grinding, and stages of sleep problems.

You can track your sleep without doing a full sleep study. There are devices you connect to your wrist or finger while sleeping. There are devices you place next to your bed, or others that you place under your sheets or mattress. They are designed to collect data about your movement and heart rate or breathing patterns. They may report total sleep time, how often you wake and what times you woke up. Some will track your sleep stages, light sleep versus deep sleep. Personally, I use my FitBit to track sleep. It also provides education on ideal stages of sleep.

Treatment for common insomnia is a combination of lifestyle changes, physical activity, good sleep hygiene, relaxation techniques, and cognitive behavioral therapy. If these interventions are not sufficient, medication may help.

Do You Believe In Giving Second Chances?

If someone has paid their debt to society after committing a crime, should they be allowed the same rights and privileges as other citizens? In theory, most Americans believe in second chances, but in practice, there are layers of discriminatory practices that prevent people with criminal records from moving on with their lives.

In the United States, we have the largest prison population in the world, and the second-highest rate of incarceration in the world. So, it’s not surprising that one in four American adults has a criminal record. This record limits their access to educational scholarships, jobs, housing, and other things that are necessary for a productive life. There are more than 48,000 documented legal restrictions in addition to the social stigma that limits their potential. This is called the “second prison”.

April is Second Chances Month, proclaimed by President Biden on March 31, 2021. Prison Fellowship founded Second Chance Month to raise awareness and improve perceptions of people with a criminal record, encourage second-chance opportunities, and work toward policy change. 

Many Americans support the idea of a “clean slate”. One quarter strongly agrees that former prisoners should not face any further penalties after they are released. But we don’t make room at the table for them. They want the same things as every other citizen. They want the ability to survive financially, have safe and adequate housing, and conduct themselves as contributing members of their communities. However, 90% of people who were formerly incarcerated struggle to find employment within the first year after release. Or, they may be restricted to low-wage or part-time jobs.  Landlords are reluctant to rent to them, causing some to be homeless. They are barred from licensing in many professions. They are unable to vote. The combined effect contributes to high rates of recidivism.

So, why should we give them a second chance? We feel happier when we forgive someone else. Personality is not set in stone. People can change and learn from their mistakes. They want an opportunity to demonstrate change.

Once a culture becomes more forgiving, there are payoffs for its citizens. The United States ranked #4 in citing forgiveness as a value. It is a critical element in breaking cycles of violence and conflict. Forgiveness might lead to healing and reconciliation.

Our communities are safer when people can transform their lives. Meaningful employment is essential for reducing future crime among people who have previously been incarcerated or are under community supervision.

Turn the tables and imagine that it’s you who needs the second chance. You made a mistake, you feel ashamed and live with regret. You would feel better if you were allowed to redeem yourself.

What can you do to help an individual who has a prior record and is looking for a second chance? Pull them in from the fringes of society. Judge each individual on who they are today, and not on who they were in their past. Include or refer them to support groups and neighborhood networks. If asked, provide positive references if you believe they have a good work ethic or high character. If you are a landlord, consider positive factors such as good credit, work history, and informal reference letters.

Not everyone deserves a second chance. But if our judicial system has determined that they have sufficiently paid the price for their crime, we must not throw obstacles in their way. They should be provided an opportunity to rejoin their community with dignity.

Who or What Killed George Floyd?

At the time of this writing, Derek Chauvin is on trial for the murder of George Floyd. This is my opinion piece. Video shows Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest. He denied the charge against him. His defense team is proposing that drug overdose and an underlying heart condition caused Floyd’s death. However, medical expert Dr. Thomas stated, “There’s no evidence to suggest that he would have died that night if not for the actions of law enforcement.” Many medical experts agree that he died from a lack of oxygen due to the manner in which he was restrained.

Floyd was not a healthy man. He had narrowed coronary arteries, was a smoker, and had been using illicit substances for years. Upon an autopsy, Floyd was found to have cannabis, fentanyl, and methamphetamine in his system. Additionally, the autopsy report revealed that he was positive for the virus that causes Covid-19.

Fentanyl is a leading cause of drug overdose deaths. Methamphetamine is often secretly mixed with fentanyl. What does a fentanyl overdose look like? A person’s lips immediately turn blue, you will hear gurgling sounds with breathing, the body may go limp, stiffen, have seizure-like activity, foaming at the mouth, confusion, or strange behavior before the person becomes unresponsive. The person will have low blood pressure, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, changes in pupillary size, cold and clammy skin, slowed or stopped breathing, decreased heart rate, reduced or loss of consciousness, and coma.

It happens quickly. 75% of respondents in one study described fentanyl overdose symptoms that occurred within seconds to minutes. One person indicated that you would notice the overdose as soon as they are done injecting the fentanyl. They don’t have time to pull the needle out of their body and they’re on the ground. Floyd would not have had 20 minutes to coherently interact with the police or had time to call attention to his distress and inability to breathe. His death by overdose is extremely unlikely.

If you notice someone with these symptoms, act fast. That person needs immediate medical attention utilizing Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the symptoms of a fentanyl overdose. It restores normal breathing. If police officers had suspected a drug overdose, they should have administered Naloxone because they had a duty to care for Floyd as his health and breathing were deteriorating. They failed to do so.

If you or someone you know takes prescription pain killers, or abuses non-prescribed opioids, keep Naloxone in a readily available location. You can get Naloxone from your pharmacy.

A search of Floyd’s car found a box of Suboxone, which is a prescription medication used for opioid dependence treatment. It is helpful to reduce cravings for opioids. He may have been in treatment for opioid dependence, seeking recovery.

One news column from Minneapolis on August 26, 2020, reads, “New Court Docs Say George Floyd had “Fatal Level” of Fentanyl in His System”. This is nonsense. A fatal level of fentanyl is dependent on the person. To a person who has not built a tolerance to opioids, perhaps death is likely. But people who use opioids build a tolerance to them and can consume larger-than-average amounts without overdosing. Longtime opioid users often need to take increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the same level of euphoria.

So, did Floyd die of an overdose, heart failure, or of Covid-19? There is no evidence to support that he would have died that day of these conditions if he hadn’t been physically restrained in such a way that his breathing was impaired. We’ll never know the future, but he may well have died from these conditions on another day, but not on that day. If he had been alone, he probably wouldn’t have died.

As a side note, anyone can die of substance use, including alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes. Even casual drug and alcohol use can lower your life expectancy. An addiction calculator can estimate your life lost: How much your life is shortened by with every dose on average if you are a chronic user. See

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison made a statement. “To the Floyd family, to our beloved community, and everyone that is watching, I say: George Floyd mattered. He was loved. His life was important. His life had value.” I say that Floyd was a valuable human if he passed a counterfeit $20 bill, whether or not he used illicit substances, or if he was in recovery or not. 

Don’t Pity Single People

For 70+ years, studies have supposedly shown that marrying improves people’s wellness. We have believed that marriage makes people healthier and happier. If only we could find our soulmate, we would live happily ever after.

Let’s examine our assumptions. Do you believe that married or coupled people are happier and healthier than single people? Do you believe that single people are generally lonely, and lonelier than married or coupled people? Among these four groups – married people, people who cohabitate, single people who are dating, or single people who are not dating – who do you believe are the most likely to be depressed? Most people expect solo single people to be the most depressed, stressed, and loneliest. Guess what? Studies show there is little difference between these groups.

Author, professor, and researcher, Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is an expert in single people. Dr. DePaulo demonstrates that we are wrong about the benefits of marriage. People who marry do not become healthier than when they were single and may even become a shade less healthy. They do not become lastingly happier, either.

Generally, people do not get happier after they get married. Some people may get a little happier around the time of the wedding, then they go back to feeling as happy or as unhappy as they were when they were single. Not everyone has a boost of happiness around the time of the marriage. They were also no happier and no healthier, and their self-esteem was no higher.

In fact, one significant difference between couples and singles is that couples become more insular with pairing. Couples don’t develop their social network in the same way that single people do. Single people have many people they can rely on. DePaulo says, “They are probably doing more to maintain their connections with people such as friends, parents, siblings, and neighbors than married or cohabiting people are. If they can rely on their friends and family, that will probably matter more to their psychological health than whether they have a spouse or romantic partner.” And people with partners can feel terribly lonely.

What we believe about single life and what single people actually experience can be quite different. Studies show that over time, single life gets better and better. As we age, satisfaction with single life gets better. Single people have opportunities for growth and autonomy that coupled people don’t have. Single people without children have more time and income to pursue interests.

By the way, women like being single more than men do. They enjoy spending time alone more than men do. They are more satisfied with their friendships. They spend more time pursuing their interests and hobbies. If they are heterosexuals who were previously married or living with a man, they are especially happy not to be doing more than their fair share of the household chores or the work of caring for others.

A word of warning for people who choose to be single, or for whom pairing does not happen, is to protect yourself financially.  Lifelong single people are at much greater risk for financial insecurity in later life than married people. Economic discrimination against single people is written into many federal laws that benefit and protect only people who are legally married.

Single people are mostly doing fine, but other people just don’t believe them. I believe it is time that we validate singlehood. Stop the stigma against single people.

For more information on this topic go to Bella DePaulo’s website at or watch her Tedx Talk, “What no one ever told you about people who are single”. Fascinating.

Women’s Mental Health

Mental disorders can affect anyone. But it affects men and women differently. Some disorders are more common in one sex than the other. Certain disorders are unique to women experiencing hormone changes such as perinatal depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and perimenopause-related depression. Some conditions are the same across genders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But even when the condition is the same, certain symptoms may be more common in one sex than the other, and the course of the illness can be affected by one’s sex.

The US Department of Health & Human Services provides good information for women through their Office on Women’s Health. ( In the past year, more than 1 in 5 women in the US experienced a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. In fact, women are more than twice as likely to experience an anxiety or depressive disorder in their lifetime. Not surprising is the fact that depression is more common in women whose families live below the federal poverty line.

Some people who experience mental illness turn to substances to cope and those substances can affect your mental health. Men are more likely than women to misuse alcohol, but women are more likely to have harmful effects from it. Women absorb more alcohol pound for pound than men, and it takes longer for women’s bodies to digest alcohol. Women who abuse alcohol more may develop liver inflammation and die from cirrhosis more often than men. Alcohol can cause different types of cancer, including breast cancer. Women tend to abuse prescription drugs for different reasons than men do. They report higher rates of chronic pain and are more likely to be prescribed pain medicines than men. Women might misuse prescription drugs to lose weight and fight fatigue.

It is difficult for women to feel confident about their looks in this society. Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a serious illness in which a person is overly worried about minor or imaginary physical flaws. This condition is more common in women and usually starts in the teen years.

Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. People with eating disorders eat too little or too much. These disorders affect more girls and women than boys and men.

What contributes to women’s mental health conditions? Abuse, whether physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual, can have long-term effects on your mental health, especially if you have not received any support. Women are more likely to live in poverty than men. Concerns for personal safety can lead to social isolation. Women are exposed to more sexual violence than men.

Women do have, however, some protective factors that can alleviate mental disorders. Women tend to have better social networks than men and find it easier to confide in their friends. Women are more likely to seek help.

Therapist Emma Shearer,, lists the eight most common reasons women seek therapy. These are depression and anxiety, difficult transitions, relationship struggles, addiction, mood instability, eating disorders, grief, and personal growth.

Whether you are deeply unhappy or if you are seeking personal growth, there is help available.

Are You Wedded To Your Opinions?

I enjoy people who have strong opinions, but I don’t like to debate with people who think they are always right. Dogmatically assertive people have strongly held opinions that they refuse to change, even when they are unreasonable. They speak as if their opinions are facts rather than mere beliefs.

A black-and-white approach to life can be a significant pitfall. This is known as cognitive rigidity. While they are committed to their beliefs, they often forget that all of the principles they espouse are neither universal nor objective. They don’t realize that their way isn’t the only way and that others have much to contribute and should not be dismissed.

The technical definition of cognitive rigidity is “difficulty changing mental sets.” This means switching from thinking about things one way to thinking about them a different way. On the other hand, people who can do this easily are said to have “cognitive flexibility”.

Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. He has researched what makes us see things so differently from one another. He identified thirteen biases that help us understand why we hold tightly to our preferred beliefs. He says that people can’t see what they can’t see. Their biases get in the way.

  • Confirmation Bias: We judge new ideas based on the ease with which they fit in with and confirm our existing beliefs.
  • Complexity Bias: Our brains prefer a simple falsehood to a complex truth.
  • Community Bias: It’s almost impossible to see what our community doesn’t, can’t, or won’t see.
  • Complementarity Bias: If you are hostile to my ideas, I’ll be hostile to yours. If you are curious and respectful toward my ideas, I’ll respond in kind.
  • Competency Bias: They underestimate their own incompetence, and consider themselves at least of average competence.
  • Consciousness Bias: Some things simply can’t be seen from where I am right now. But if I keep growing, maturing, and developing, someday I will be able to see what is now inaccessible to me.
  • Comfort or Complacency Bias: I prefer not to have my comfort disturbed.
  • Conservative/Liberal Bias: I lean toward nurturing fairness and kindness, or towards strictly enforcing purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority, as an expression of my political identity.
  • Confidence Bias: I am attracted to confidence, even if it is false. I often prefer the bold lie to the hesitant truth.
  • Catastrophe or Normalcy Bias: I remember dramatic catastrophes but don’t notice gradual decline (or improvement).
  • Contact Bias: When I don’t have intense and sustained personal contact with “the other,” my prejudices and false assumptions go unchallenged.
  • Cash Bias: It’s hard for me to see something when my way of making a living requires me not to see it.
  • Conspiracy Bias: Under stress or shame, our brains are attracted to stories that relieve us, exonerate us, or portray us as innocent victims of malicious conspirators.

So, the next time you catch yourself holding rigid beliefs about what you perceive as a truth, you would be wise to lessen your grip on this idea and examine if you have an unconscious bias. Through self-awareness, we can learn to recognize our biases. Find opportunities to have discussions with others from socially dissimilar groups.

And the next time you find yourself engaged in a discussion with someone who needs to be right, listen hard to find an area of commonality. Find a kernel of agreement and work from there toward meaningful discussion. They will be more likely to be open to your opinions.

Can We Really Know Someone?

Have you heard of Anna Sorokin who pretended to be a wealthy German heiress? Her real name is Anna Delvey. She swindled friends and banks out of tens of thousands of dollars and was sentenced to prison, ultimately serving almost four years. She convinced friends and businesses to give her money to fund a lavish lifestyle by falsely claiming that her father was a diplomat or an oil baron and that she had a fortune of more than $60 million overseas. Before she was sentenced, she said, “I apologize for the mistakes I made.” Last month, she paid restitution to her victims using $320,000 she received from Netflix, which purchased the rights to adapt her life story into a limited series. And she signed a book deal. She’s a con artist who duped people out of their money and now continues on her way to enjoy the attention she sought all along.

We’re all susceptible to being duped. A con game starts with an emotional foundation that is laid before the game is started. We are caught by our own belief that this person is trustworthy. By the time we become suspicious, we are so emotionally or financially invested that we don’t want to see the truth. We are the best deceivers of our own minds.

We may discover information about our family members over time. Our family histories may include drug or alcohol addictions, deceased children, infidelity, prison time, serious illnesses, organized crime activity or gang membership, a second family, murders, gambling problems, enormous debts. Or, we may have these problems in our own lives and choose not to share them with others.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms our preferred beliefs. We unconsciously select information that supports our views and ignores non-supportive information. Confirmation bias is strongest for emotionally charged issues and deeply entrenched beliefs. We don’t want to know that we are wrong about people.

People are not always what they seem. We may not even know our closest friends or spouses. We may know what our spouse’s favorite color is; what food our best friend enjoys the most; and what makes our co-worker irritated. But do we actually know them? Maybe not. The Japanese say there are three sides of a face. First is the side that you share with the people around you. Second is the side which you want to hide from everyone. And third is the reflection of your truest nature. This is the side of yourself that you haven’t, or don’t want to, explore. Nobody knows the real you. And we don’t entirely know ourselves.

In my opinion, it is good advice to secure a background check on people for whom we will share our lives or important ventures. We should know these people’s criminal history and financial status. We need to find the skeletons they haven’t mentioned. We should be aware of skeletons before they take us by surprise. A premarital background check should be done by anyone who is marrying someone they met in adulthood.

A criminal check, a credit check, and a review of public records would’ve prevented people from being conned by Anna Delvey. Upon her release from prison, she made it known that she wants to move forward with her life. She is seeking someone to love. Would you trust her?

Pros and Cons of Drug Decriminalization

Have you heard that Oregon passed a drug decriminalization law? Oregon is the first state in the country to prioritize drug treatment over punishment. Oregon is motivated to save lives. An average of one or two Oregonians die of a drug overdose every day. Overdose deaths in Oregon were up 70% this spring compared to the same time last year.

If you are found with small amounts of illicit drugs, you will receive a civil violation, like a traffic ticket. For example, you will receive a violation if you have less than 2 grams of methamphetamine and cocaine, or one gram of heroin, or less than 40 units of LSD and oxycodone. If you are caught with large amounts of illicit drugs, the consequence is a misdemeanor charge and a $100 fine. Violators can avoid that fine by agreeing to a health assessment.

Not everything goes. The decriminalization of drugs does not mean that there is a free-for-all with drug use. Law enforcement will continue to prevent the sale of drugs.

Supporters hope that people who struggle with addiction will have an incentive to get help. And more help will be available. As part of the law, the Oregon Health Authority is providing new resources and treatment options, funded in part by the state’s cannabis tax revenue.

Not everyone is pleased with decriminalization. A minority of people may find jail beneficial. Some people believe that prison stops those who don’t want to stop themselves. Some prisons have excellent substance abuse programs for inmates who are motivated for recovery.

However, prison poses a special risk of death for people who undergo withdrawal while incarcerated, or shortly upon their release. Legal charges and a history of incarceration follow one through life, causing severe consequences, such as unemployment and difficulty accessing housing.

There is a shortage of behavioral health and substance abuse treatment in the United States. The right treatment, for the right person, at the right time, and which is affordable and accessible, may not be available in one’s community. We could all learn from Oregon’s new law. The new law will utilize and expand existing treatment providers in the state. It also increases recovery services, housing, employment, drug education, outreach, and access to naloxone (overdose prevention tool).

Portugal decriminalized substance possession in 2001. According to Foundations Recovery Network, lessons learned including the following:

  • Substance abuse and addiction rates have been cut in half since decriminalization
  • Addiction treatment and rehabilitation is less expensive than incarceration
  • Individuals with substance abuse problems are much more likely to find recovery in rehab than in jail
  • People completing treatment can become productive members of society much more easily than convicted felons
  • Violence related to drug trafficking is greatly reduced
  • Courts are freed up for other important work
  • The rebellious, countercultural essence of drug use is changed when society sees it as a disease and not a crime

Foundations Recovery Network also finds the following concerns:

  • Individuals with a biological predisposition toward addiction may be more likely to experiment with drugs if they do not fear legal prosecution.
  • The existing treatment resources are not nearly large enough to handle the influx of millions of new addicts from the legal system.
  • Decriminalization may lead to a push for legalization in some situations.
  • If decriminalization leads to an increased supply of drugs on the streets of the US, prices will fall and millions of new people may be tempted to experiment.

Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that decriminalization is the answer to substance abuse recovery. People use substances for many reasons. But criminalizing a medical disease most often makes it worse, not better, and has negative lifelong consequences. As our eyes are on Oregon, we will likely be faced with a similar decision in our states. Be prepared to consider the pros and cons of this legal decision.

Can You Be Fired for Going to Substance Abuse Treatment?

We love to celebrate achievements and milestones. We applaud cancer survivors. We are in awe of people who lose weight. We cheer marathon runners. Yet, people who are in recovery from drug dependence are often met with poor treatment.

Anyone who has been dependent upon an illicit drug feels the shame of addiction. Even if they have undergone treatment and are well into recovery, they realize that a social stigma exists in which they would be characterized as low life, undisciplined, dirty people. This characterization persists even though addiction affects all socio-economic groups. Anyone, no matter their age, gender, background, or circumstances, can find themselves trapped in addiction. No one sets out to be addicted to a substance. It could happen to any of us.

Imagine that you participate in drug dependence treatment at a reputable facility. You relapse after a few months and have the good judgment to re-enter the program. You get back on your feet. Because you live in a small rural town, anonymity is not possible. Everyone knows of your struggles. Are you celebrated for your achievement or could you lose your job?

I recently heard of someone who was asked to resign from a job that he held for years after his treatment became known. His job was his passion, pride, and joy. He was told that his contract would not be renewed because his addiction was a liability. To his knowledge, he had never received a complaint about his role and had never received warnings or disciplinary action before being asked to resign. I heard of another person who felt she was denied a promised promotion after it became known that she was arrested for a drug charge. That charge was later dropped.

Is that legal? Can you be fired or demoted for going to rehab? The decision to enter treatment is a tough one. A substance use disorder is considered a medical condition. You’re eligible under the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) if you’ve worked for your employer at least 12 months, if you have worked for a minimum of 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and if you’re employed at a site where the company employs 50 or more workers within 75 miles. If you fit these criteria you may take a leave for medical reasons and receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off from work annually without the risk of losing your job.

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against employees who have disabilities. (Keep in mind that an “individual with a disability” doesn’t include a person who is currently using illegal drugs.) Under the ADA, an employer can terminate an employee if they are using drugs or alcohol on the job, if substance use impacts performance or productivity, or if substance use creates unsafe conditions on the job. The law doesn’t look at past transgressions due to drug and alcohol misuse. If you seek treatment voluntarily, you can’t be fired for going to rehab or be fired for past mistakes due to drug and alcohol use.

If you believe you have been discriminated against at work after getting treatment, you can file a charge against your employer with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

I don’t mean to minimize the significance of impaired workers. 10 percent to 25 percent of the American population is sometimes on the job under the influence of alcohol or some illicit drug. The social and economic costs of substance abuse in America are staggering. I wouldn’t tolerate it in my business. Employees who use drugs or alcohol are required to meet the same standards of performance and conduct that are set for other employees. However, an employer may not discriminate against a person who has a history of drug addiction but who is not currently using drugs and who is in recovery.

Addiction stigma prevents too many people from getting the help they need. This is only one reason that only one in ten Americans receives professional care for addiction. Addiction is a medical problem, not a moral issue. It affects people who are every bit as moral, productive, intelligent, and talented as the next person. We are all flawed human beings and should be treated equally, with understanding and respect.

Bad Memories Stick With Us More than Good

I read a Facebook post that generated a lot of discussion. “My mom said something mean to me when I was 8, literally, that I repeat back to myself any time I make a stupid mistake. I could probably bring it up to her and she won’t even remember it ever happened, or she ever said it. Meanwhile it stays in the back of my head.”

Why is it that we vividly recall painful experiences but the offender can’t remember it? Or why do we remember hurtful words but can’t as easily recall pleasant or mundane events?

“The ax forgets but the tree remembers.” This is a Zimbabwean proverb from the Shona tribe, meaning that a person who harms another or borrows from someone will often forget, but the person who is harmed or borrowed from will always remember.

According to researcher Elizabeth Kensinger of Boston College, negative emotions like fear and sadness trigger increased activity in a part of the brain linked to memories. These emotionally charged memories are preserved in greater detail than happy or more neutral memories, but they may also be subject to distortion. The more these emotional centers are activated by an event, the more likely an individual is to remember specific details linked to the emotional aspect of the event, and perhaps less likely to remember more mundane details like a street address. This technique of preserving bad memories may have evolved as an evolutionary tactic to protect against future life-threatening or negative events.

Lia Kvavilasvili, a psychology researcher at the University of Herfordshire, studies what she calls “mind pops”. These are thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere. She finds that memories are often triggered by something in the environment that takes us back to an incident. She also finds that interrupted moments stick with us longer than those that feel completed. For example, if we don’t have an opportunity to explain or correct the initial incident. And our emotions dictate what our brains decide to hang on to. The stronger the feeling, the stronger the memory. The brain is saying, “Something important happened. Make a strong memory.”

Can we intentionally forget these hurtful words and experiences? Erasing or suppressing memories is controversial. The brain wants to store that experience as a helpful learning tool. Corinne O’Keefe Osborn writes that, “…memories are cue-dependent, which means they require a trigger. Your bad memory isn’t constantly in your head; something in your present environment reminds you of your bad experience and triggers the recall process. Identifying your most common triggers can help you take control of them. You can also re-associate a trigger with a positive or safe experience, thereby breaking the link between the trigger and the negative memory.”

We can’t prevent bad memories from popping into our head. But we can learn to manage the emotional intensity surrounding the memories. There are many therapeutic treatments designed to desensitize highly charged memories. If painful memories interfere with your life, a therapist can help.