Addiction Recovery Support
September is Recovery Month so I’m dedicating this newsletter to a brief overview of how massage therapy can be used in the recovery process.
I’ve been working with this population since June 2015 with patients at a recovery center in both their detox and residential programs. I offer massage at my private office to support life long recovery.
I use different non-talk bodywork therapies to decrease pain and agitation, release beta-endorphins, and improve sleep.
Stages – withdrawal, detox and abstinence
A medical detox is prescribed for heavy users who would experience the most acute withdrawal symptoms.
If you are experiencing withdrawal, I focus on bringing awareness back to your body and emotionally attaching you to your body again with soothing massage that doesn’t ask the body to do anything (unlike a deep, rigorous massage). Addiction at heart is about self-soothing and massage therapy creates a pathway to bring the emotions back to the body where pain often is.
From what I’ve learned, when one abandons their addiction, their ‘self’ separates into pieces.
Maureen Schwer, NMD sums this up: “The spirit is who we really are. Our mind is our thinking brain, and our body houses this. If you’re an addict, you often have to ignore your body, because you are, in essence, hurting your ‘house’.” This is why bringing you back into your body is so important – it’s one of the first steps towards mindful action and self awareness so that when you are no longer physically addicted, you’ve practiced being with your self and feeling your body again mindfully.
Relaxation massage and lymphatic drainage massage are good treatment options at this stage because the brain is looking for that fix to be soothed and comforted. When we feel safe, we can remain aware and open and mindful.
Additionally, it’s necessary to have a break from the interactive talk therapies that are part of any recovery program. Rather than being asked to do something once more or think of yourself and your addiction once again, the massage is a time-out for you to connect all that therapy on a non-talk, cellular level and gain insights. The peace and clarity can then be taken back to the treatment program to deepen the therapy with the many clinicians, counselors, etc.
If you are no longer feeling strong withdrawal symptoms, I can use a deeper massage on your soft tissues to assist the ongoing detox process. (Certain types of meds that are used to offset withdrawal symptoms might prevent receiving bodywork until a few days after they are first given – in similar thought to why oncology massage is not indicated within the first two days after chemo; there is a potential to move the med through the system faster when it needs to stay in the system.)
Deep tissue massage, trigger point therapy and very often fascial release therapy are very good at this stage because they flush your system. Also, one of the biggest benefits of massage is the change in hormone levels that can be measured after a massage session: dopamine and serotonin increase while cortisol, a stress hormone, decreases (by as much as 33%).
Since stress hormones weaken the immune system and cause us to experience pain more acutely, the session at this stage additionally acts as a bridge to help break the pain cycle. The massage generates endorphins release while moving out cortisol. This brain chemistry shift has been proven to reduce agitation, anxiety, and lessen sleep problems (if you’re in a recovery program, you aren’t in the comfort of your own bed and often have a roommate(s).)
After dedicated help, receiving integrated bodywork therapies can be an important coping resource. The emotional, physical and situational stressors of everyday life can easily make a former user want to escape again. Massage should be a complementary therapy to any recovery program to assist abstinence.
You can find help for yourself or a loved one by contacting The New England Recovery Center. https://www.newenglandtreatmentcenter.com/resources/drug-rehab-faq/