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The Gut-Brain Connection: More Than “We Are What We Eat”

“When we talk about health, we can’t just focus on heart health, or liver health, or brain health, and not whole health. You have to see the whole person and make use of the tools and resources that benefit minds and bodies together.” – Mental Health America

It is this connection between our minds and bodies that we here at Passage know all too well. We know how important it is for our kids and their mental health to have access to healthy foods, exercise, fresh air and beyond. But there is one area that we’re just learning about and we’re lucky to have a medical director who knows all about this topic. So, we enlisted Dr. Ammend to discuss the importance of the connection between our brain and our gut. Feel free to reach out to us if you have questions.

The Gut-Brain Connection: More Than “We Are What We Eat”
By David Ammend, MD

A few short years ago, I would cringe when I heard someone say the words “gut-brain connection.” It screamed fringe science, some off-shoot from immunizations-cause-autism or ADHD-is-only-a-food-allergy. But then I actually started to pay attention to what was being said. And it struck me that what they were saying evoked a line of thinking I had been having for years but had never been able to pull into a coherent whole: There is a connection between the increases we are seeing in brain dysfunction and the fact that our environment has been changing dramatically.

What is the “gut-brain connection?”

In its simplest form, the term refers to the many known ways in which a person’s digestive tract (the “gut” – especially the small and large intestines) and central nervous system (especially the brain) interact. The fact that they DO interact could be dramatically demonstrated by asking me to speak in front of a large crowd: My brain will immediately hate the idea, and in turn, my gut will threaten to rid itself of everything it contains. I will leave it to the reader to come up with his or her own list of colloquialisms involving fear and the clearing of one’s bowels. But suffice it to say, on some level the workings of the gut-brain connection are universally known, if not fully understood.

But who cares? The reason to care is that the attempts to understand the simple version of the gut-brain connection led to a better understanding of the links – neurological, biochemical, and hormonal – that exist between the two systems. And from there we began to see how things like neurocognitive impairment and mental illness can be affected by such things as diet, stress, trauma, and toxic exposures. And from THERE we can see how brain dysfunction can cause gut dysfunction (this is a two-way street) and consequently impact our general health. And from THERE we can…but I am getting ahead of myself.

Pulling the pieces together

The best overview that I have heard on this broad topic was in a presentation called “The Gut, the Brain, and Chemicals” by Andrew Campbell, M.D.* It was presented at an alternative and complementary medicine conference I attended in October 2015, and in part it attempts to explain the increase in some chronic conditions – including mental illnesses and neurodevelopmental disorders – that has been observed in recent years. While it is an oversimplification, I would summarize his line of thinking like this:

  • The Gut has two characteristics that make it a very powerful actor in determining our health:
    • A large surface area (the size of a tennis court) that is exposed to the outside world. Think about the digestive tract as essentially being exposed to our environment via our mouth. The things we eat (about a ton of food per year) bring “outside” substances – some of which are potentially harmful – into our bodies.
    • A large number of neurons – more than exist in the spinal cord. And like the spinal cord, the nerves of the gut have intricate connections to the central nervous system. So, unlike Vegas, what happens in the Gut doesn’t stay in the Gut.
  • The Gut also contains a massive community of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that are collectively known as the human biome. It is a key mediator in the interaction between the gut and the brain. (Technically, the biome includes organisms that live on our skin and elsewhere in our body, but for this discussion, the part of the biome of most interest is that which is contained in the large intestine.) The organisms that make up our biome feed on nutrients in our gut, help break down molecules in our gut, and (write this down; it will be on the test!) produce neurotransmitters and hormones that can impact our own neurological and metabolic functioning. The fact that our gut microbiome contains approximately 4 times as many cells as we have human cells means that the potential for our microbiome to influence our health is great.
  • Both the composition and function of the microbiome are affected by changes in our environment. Dr. Campbell emphasizes that the way that human beings think, feel, and function has evolved over millennia. But the environmental conditions in which we currently live have changed rapidly and significantly from those that determined our evolution. A few examples of changes in those environmental conditions include processing of food; the radical explosion of the number of chemicals that we are exposed to (very few of which have been studied for safety); and our inundation by nanoparticles that can trigger both digestive system and central nervous system inflammation.

The uber-oversimplified recap is this: Changes in our environment (food, chemicals) and new forms of stresses can change the composition of the microbiome, leading to changes in the neurotransmitters produced in the gut. The changes in neurotransmitters can effect changes in mood, behavior and neurological functioning. All of this is further complicated by the inflammatory changes that may be going on in our intestines and/or brains as a result of exposure to toxic substances, and the end result is manifested as disruptions of our physical and mental health. (I will resist the temptation at this point of launching into a discussion on the false separation of mental and physical health.)

Hard stuff.

I once had a professor that, when approaching a particularly difficult to understand topic, would lean in and say “This is hard stuff.” Well, this is hard stuff indeed. Much is yet to be learned about the interweaving of gut and brain health. We still do not understand exactly how particular substances or stressors impact brain functioning. There are many potential mediators that might determine whether exposure to a particular substance ends up causing health problems: the strength of the exposure (“dose”); the time in one’s life one is exposed; one’s genetic susceptibility to suffering harm from the particular substance; simultaneous exposure to other substances; the presence or absence of protective factors; and the relative state of health of one’s microbiome, to name but a few. Change just one of those factors, and you may very well change whether the substance has no real impact on health or causes devastating health problems.

Until we work through all of the complexities of the system summarized above, it remains difficult to say with certainty which substances or stressors must be considered toxic from those that are safe. That is, which substances or stressors impair our gut and brain functioning vs. those that do not. But as these details become clearer, there is hope that we can develop more effective ways of treating mental illness and cognitive dysfunction – or avoiding those problems altogether.

There is a lot of work left to be done. But what we know so far suggests that our changing environment and rapidly evolving lifestyles may be causing harm to us in ways that we have only recently begun to understand.

Plenty of food for thought there. Hard stuff.

*For an interview with Dr. Campbell on this topic, see

Passage Makes it into the Pages of Enduring Gift

We here at Northwest Passage know the importance and value of nature. We take advantage of the pristine wildness of the St. Croix River and its tributaries regularly with our residents through our nature photography programming, In a New Light (and Under the Surface). It is with this appreciation that we are excited to celebrate a recent publication–famed nature photographer, Craig Blacklock’s– “St. Croix & Namekagon Rivers: The Enduring Gift.” We have long admired Craig’s work and are thrilled he chose to capture the spirit of the St. Croix; the National Park in our own backyard.

Of course, it is no coincidence that Craig’s book was published in 2018, the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. It was through a partnership with the St. Croix River Association that this work of art came to be in recognition of this impactful legislation that protects the gorgeous river we all know and love. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 was co-sponsored by Sens. Gaylord Nelson and Walter F. Mondale and sought to protect a handful of riverways from the harmful impact of humanity by giving them a special designation and with that, protections. Both the St. Croix and Namekagon are two of the original eight rivers protected and are evidence of the program’s success.

The gift this legislation has been to our region is incalculable. It is truly a unique experience to be on a Wild and Scenic River. The undisturbed water’s edge is as though civilization is miles, if not decades away. We’re lucky to have over 252 miles of this wild terrain, and we’re lucky to have a book that captures this treasure so beautifully.

We make our appearance on page 79 opposite of a gorgeous shot of St. Croix State Park – be sure to check it out.

There is photo exhibition at the Mill City Museum, in Minneapolis. Located in the museum’s central Mill Commons from April 12 through June 24, 2018. We recommend you make time to see these photos up-close and in person at the exhibit, or order your book now by visiting

The river is full of energy,

full of life in a constant flow.

I feel like my life is just like the river

I have all this energy, and my life is now just beginning for the first time.

Derek, 17

Former Lakeshore Resident

The glassy world of today

Will never shine quite that way.

Tomorrow comes and goes

Just like the river flows.

We are pebbles beneath the glass,

We are redder than the mountain pass.

Our real selves just below air.

Trying to live without a care

We’re stuck in the water, oh so deep

We can’t go anywhere, cannot leap.

We are deep and meaningful.

You know it’s true.

We are the rocks of every hue.

Aarin, 15

Former Lakeshore Resident

There are so many beautiful aspects of life that we never see and we never know about, unless we look. Sometimes we have to look in the places that are dark, scary, and unfamiliar to find the greatest beauty of all. I was really surprised to find out that there were sponges in freshwater ecosystems, and now I’ve had an opportunity to capture their beauty to share with the world.

Jonathan, 17

Former Lakeshore Resident


Into the water I went

Washing away the pain the scares left

I watched the memories float down the stream

Away from my thoughts, away from me

Submerged in the peaceful current

I left myself go for just a moment

As I rose up out of the water

The sun seemed to shine brighter

I knew I was going to be okay

Jade, 16

Former Prairieview Resident

We’re Looking for YOU!

Pediatric Neuropsychologist

We provide a unique 30-day mental health evaluation and aftercare strategy program for male and female children ages 6 to 17. The patient population reflects a wide range of neurodevelopmental disorders in the context of primary psychosocial concerns often involving substantial adverse childhood experience.  The associated learning, behavioral, and psychological complications are a significant component of daily evaluation and consultation.

The predominant position responsibilities include conducting neuropsychological evaluations and preparing neuropsychological reports.  There is often daily consultation within our team that includes neuropsychologists, a psychometrician, a pediatrician, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, case managers, therapists, special education staff, patients, and patient families. In addition to this multidisciplinary communication and collaboration, a weekly meeting of all teams involves in-depth case discussion of each resident/patient. Research opportunities are emerging and can be matched to applicant interest.

This pleasant, casual work setting is located in Northwestern Wisconsin in close proximity to state and national forests, the shores of Lake Superior, and the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway.  Outdoor recreation is available for all seasons. Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area is nearby as well. Numerous cultural and recreational opportunities offer a high quality of life.

The position offers a competitive benefits package including signing bonus, relocation, liability insurance, life insurance, healthcare, PTO, funding for professional development and continuing education, potential student loan reimbursement, and 401k retirement contribution.


  • Completes all required documentation in an accurate and timely manner
  • Understands and follows agency policies
  • Licensed to practice in the state of Wisconsin and qualify for reimbursement by Wisconsin MA and third party or should be eligible for Wisconsin licensure.
  • Doctoral degree from an APA-accredited program in clinical psychology
  • Completion of an internship with experience in pediatric neuropsychology
  • Completion of a fellowship with experience in pediatric neuropsychology
  • Signing Bonus
  • Relocation
  • Liability Insurance
  • Life Insurance
  • Healthcare
  • Paid time off and paid holidays
  • Funding for professional development and continuing education
  • Possible student loan reimbursement
  • 401k retirement contribution

Seizing the Light


The light dances off the surface of the crystalline surface.

Light penetrates the recesses of the hollow spots.

The hidden bright spots can be found in surprising spots if the light is right.

This is Seizing the Light.

We hosted an artist reception to celebrate the opening of Seizing the Light, a new exhibit featuring the work of our Prairieview kids. Molly, their artistic director, who infuses art therapy into her work with the kids, “This show captured the beauty of the way the light dances on the blank canvases of snow, the warm neutral tones of the winter brush, and the sparkle of the ice crystals.”

You can see the full show at the In a New Light Gallery located at 7417 N Bass Lake Road in Webster, Wisconsin. Our gallery is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., stop by anytime!

Excerpts from the latest show:

“Thoughts” by Candus, 15

“Cold and frozen, brittle and broken, lost yet found, beautiful they say but self-conscious deep down inside, hidden but right in the center, hurt but smiling because I’m still trying …”

“What’s on the Inside” by Malia, 16

“No one in this world will ever be able to figure out what one person is like unless they put in the time and effort to get to know them. People are absolutely incredible and completely one-of-a-kind.”

“Angel” by Sidney, 16

“Haze” by Beaux, 13

“If you want to know who you are, you have to look at your real self and acknowledge what you see”-Itachi Uchiha

“Neglect” by Anonymous, 15

“Neglect. Broken, hurt. Crying, suffering, damaging. Dad, beer, contact, love. Laughing, hugging, smiling. Fulfilled, joy. Attention.”

“Fear Has No Power Over You” by Jazzlyn, 16

“Fear is an emotion, it can’t hurt you, touch you, or hold power over you. You’re in control of your emotion, especially your fears.”

Winter Games Come to Passage!

The spirit of the Olympics spread throughout the building as a part of a staff-initiated effort!

Walking through the halls of Prairieview and Assessment the last few weekends you’d have heard a lot more laughter and bustle coming from the units. Kids and staff alike were all in on the Olympic games this year thanks to some above and beyond effort from the weekend direct care providers. “The Olympics are a special time where the whole world stops and comes to gather to celebrate what humanity can accomplish despite our differences. We wanted to make sure the kids had an opportunity to learn about different cultures represented at the games, celebrate diversity and unity, and most importantly just have fun!” Amanda Leckel, weekend staffer explains. Adam Parker, added, “We included activities for all levels, the arts, education, and even ethnic foods in the planning.” Adam, “And of course, a little healthy completion.”

Five units competed in a variety of contests like those listed below and earned points across three weekends. And it was a hit! Adam says of the Passage Winter Games, “I loved seeing the kids cheer one another on during the competition. It made everything we did to make these events happen worth it. We know how important relationships are to these kids and any chance we have to bring them together to work toward a common cause is a chance worth taking.” Amanda says, All of the kiddos put in a lot of effort and it was a blast watching them try new things and learn about their assigned countries.”

  • Ethnic snacks
  • Snow structure building
  • Skating
  • Unity Poetry contest
  • Artist poster chronicling the experience
  • Unit decorating
  • Flag creation and design competition
  • Obstacle course
  • Medicine ball throw
  • Sledding relay
  • Photo Booth
  • Snowshoeing


Doing these events helped me realize that I really can contribute something valuable to a cause bigger than myself.

Prairieview Resident



Program coordinator, Amanda Lundquist said of the events, “As a program coordinator, I’m grateful for the staff who show great creativity and initiative to bring opportunities like these to our kiddos. Amanda and Adam stepped up and made all of this possible through hard work, planning, and collaboration. I was thrilled to see what fun the kids had.”

We’re looking for YOU!

Become a Master Naturalist Volunteer for Northwest Passage today!

We are offering a unique volunteer opportunity at our Prairieview campus for

Wisconsin Master Naturalist Volunteer Training Course this spring. The course will focus on nature as a therapeutic tool for youth and will be an asset for the community. The subject areas included in the Master Naturalist training include geology, ecology, plant communities, wildlife, interpretation, water, and human impacts. The course will provide participants with a foundation in these subject areas. Unique to Northwest Passage’s course, lessons and workshops will include best practices and methods for working with youth with mental health and behavioral challenges.

A Master Naturalist instruction manual will be provided and used as a guiding resource for the course. Guest speakers will include regional scientists, professors, and natural history experts as well as members of Northwest Passage’s Clinical Team and Educational Staff. This specific course will appeal to enthusiastic educators with a passion not only for the nature of Wisconsin, but also with a desire to engage marginalized youth in the outdoors.

Project lead, Ian Karl says that “this is a great opportunity for anyone looking to improve their knowledge of our regional landscape and ecology or work with youth in their communities.” He goes on to say he hopes to see a wide array of community members – “we welcome anyone from educators and professionals in the field of mental health to anyone with a passion for connecting people with Wisconsin’s rich landscape”

When asked why Northwest Passage, a non-profit residential mental health program for youth, would invest in an opportunity like this in the community he smiled. “We know, and research supports, that spending time in nature is a key part of maintaining mental health. We want to help equip as many people as possible with the tools they need to be the connection for others to the woods, wildlife, and water in our little corner of the world. If one kid finds a mentor in a Master Naturalist Volunteer, then it’s worth it.”

The Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program is a network of well-informed citizens dedicated to conservation education and service within Wisconsin communities. The Master Naturalist Volunteer Training Course provides 40 hours of coursework in natural history, interpretation, and conservation stewardship. Courses combine classroom instruction with field experiences and are taught by professional natural resources educators and scientists.

Once trained, Wisconsin Master Naturalist Volunteers provide 40 hours of service, preferably with Northwest Passage at its prairie restoration site, and take 8 hours of advanced training each year to maintain their certification and receive a recognition pin. The course fee is $250 and includes all class materials and a one-year membership with the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. Scholarships are available on a needs basis. If you’re interested in learning more about the scholarship, you can reach out to our development director, Chanda Elliott to apply. The courses will be held at Northwest Passage’s In a New Light Gallery and through a series of field trips. The gallery is located at: 7417 N Bass Lake Rd, Webster, WI 54893. The course will run every other weekend beginning on April 7, 2018 and will end on May 20, 2018.

Saturday, April 7: 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 8: 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 21: 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (Field Trip)
Saturday, May 5: 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (Field Trip)
Saturday, May 19: 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Sunday, May 20: 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

For more information about Northwest Passage call 715-327-4402 or visit us at


Prairieview-2016-Prairie-Study-03.jpg (attached) – Ian takes students out to the prairie to investigate their surroundings.
WMN_logo_color_med.png – Become a volunteer at Northwest Passage to help us with our prairie restoration stewardship project.


Since 1978, Northwest Passage’s mission has been to restore hope through innovative health services for children and families.

What is Self-Harm?

Scared. Disgusted. Confused. Worried. Frustrated. These are some of the words that I have heard from those caring for and about those who live with non-suicidal self-injurious behaviors, commonly known as self-harm. Oftentimes these caregivers will confuse self-harm with a suicide attempt; believing that their loved one was intending to die. They become emotionally exhausted from attending to the frequent feelings of urgency to address injuries and the emotional dysregulation surrounding the behavior.

The truth is, self-harm is only sometimes associated with suicidal ideation. Of course, knowing this does not make self-harm feel any less scary or baffling to caregivers.  It can be challenging to assess where this behavior is coming from and what purpose it is serving in an individual’s life. To better understand this pattern of behavior we often look at self-harm, not as the problem, but instead, as the solution to a problem. Looking at self-harm in this way can provide the opportunity to explore what other factors have motivated this concerning behavior. Additionally, looking for these motivators can help bring understanding to a pattern that can be difficult to understand.

Self-harm can serve many purposes for those who engage in it. For some, it can be a way to make their incomprehensible emotional pain make sense. They can make the abstract world of emotions, concrete through a physical wound. This often is the case for those who struggle with verbal communication or getting their ideas across effectively. For others, self-harm is a way to express their need for assistance from the outside world. And for still others, self-harm is actually a tool to prevent them from engaging in suicidal behaviors.

In many ways, self-harm behaviors can be seen as closely related to addictive behaviors. When an individual uses drugs and alcohol to soothe difficult emotions or to help express themselves, their other coping/communication skills become underused and a bit rusty. The same process happens with self-harm. When this behavior is solely relied upon in times of distress, other options that may be more sustainable and less problematic no longer get used.

When working to leave behind self-harm behaviors its important to learn about skills such as urge surfing which is based on the idea that no emotion last forever – rather, emotions come and go in waves. These emotional waves can be surfed with the use of a range of skills and so, too, can the urge to engage in self-harm. Of course, building a life worth living through therapeutic lifestyle choices and engaging in problem-solving for the issues that drive self-harm behaviors are also keys on the road to recovery!

Spreading Hope


The kids had an absolute blast last week as staff passed out greetings cards with wonderful messages of hope and tasty locally made cookies.

Last week was the second annual Valentine’s Day of Hope at Northwest Passage. But, “What is this all about?” asked one new staff member as the excitement spread through the building. Well, it’s a long story, kind of. Last year a pair of staff were looking to engage people who cared about Passage in a way that was accessible, directly impacted the kids, and wouldn’t cost them a dime (literally, not even a stamp). They stumbled across the idea of asking our “friends” to send in cards with inspirational messages to our kids. “We asked our supporters to send these cards in for the kids, of course, but also for themselves. We know that any act of kindness, no matter how small, is good for us. It ties in with the power of service, one of the eight tenets of the PassageWay.” explains clinical director, Angela Fredrickson. She goes on to say, “We wanted to be able to provide an opportunity for those who care about the work we do to be a part of that work.” So, they gave it a try. The team sent out cards with a simple note asking people to send in messages to the kids. The response was overwhelming.

Our son was at Northwest Passage several years ago. It was a rough time for everyone. Even after Passage, there were challenges. But gradually, our son dug deep into his soul and realized that life could be good if he made it that way. Today, he is a college graduate with a good job, sober for several years and helping others who are on their way to sobriety. Our hopes and prayers for you are that you will receive the help that NWP offers and see the “good” in life. We don’t know you, but we love you.

Parent of Past Resident

“I found myself tearing up as I read through these heartfelt messages people were sending in,” one staff member recalls. Another one talks about the power of reading the notes sent by the parents of past clients.  “It was empowering to see the stories from parents I’d worked with in the past. To know our work changed the lives of their kids in such profound ways. I was speechless.” The cards came from social workers, educational consultants, past clients and their parents, donors, and partners who have worked with our kids in the past. And their message was loud and clear – so many people care about these kids and we’ve got to do this again. So we did!

This year we saw the response to the effort double, responses came in from across the country from hundreds of supporters. So when staff walked into the program on Valentine’s Day this year, they were able to give kids a handful of cards chock full of messages of compassion, hope, and inspiration. Not to mention a delicious sugar cookie and a glass of milk. So sit back and soak up some of the hope that flooded over our kids.

And thank you, for being a part of such a beautiful moment that touched the lives of staff, the kids, and you yourself.

Be assured, you are important. I am so very proud of the work you do each day to become the person you are meant to be!


Please know that you are loved and that I care about you. Be confident that you have the power to overcome your obstacles. Have patience with yourself and never give up.


You will not be given any card in life that you cannot handle. You were born with the beauty and the strength to persevere through any hardships life throws your way and please don’t ever forget that you are strong, beautiful and worthy.


Connect to the gift of life, trust is within you, let it sustain you, like the flower that blooms in the stone. Miracles are everywhere. Yes, that is also you. May universal love enfold you and sustain you.


I want to remind you how strong you are and that whatever challenges you are facing you can get through them. Be the best you that you can be, you are worth more than you know.


To learn more about how service fits into the Northwest Passage philosophy of living an everyday therapeutic lifestyle, check out the PassageWay.


Have a little BOOST!


Article courtesy of mental health clinicianLisa B. Courchaine, LCSW

Hello fellow human! Today is the first day of the rest of your life. You know what else? February is national boost your self-esteem month. I know, it was news to me too!

I am a fan of quotes and also a fan of bullet points. So in honor of “national boost your self-esteem month,” here are some tips and things to keep in mind. I encourage you to be your own best friend and to enjoy the process of getting to know, accept and dare I say, love yourself….unconditionally.

Positive and Healthy Self-Talk:

  • “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” -Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better” -Maya Angelou
  • There’s no need to be perfect to inspire others. Let people get inspired by how you deal with your imperfections.
  • Don’t let anyone ever dull your sparkle.
  • Where attention goes – energy flows.
  • Your mind is like a garden, your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers, or you can grow weeds.

Surround yourself with those who accept and encourage you:

  • “Watch carefully the magic that occurs when you give a person enough comfort to just be themselves.” -Atticus
  • Be with those who bring out the best in you, not the stress in you.
  • “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” -Dr. Seuss
  • “Surround yourself with the dreamers and doers, the believers and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.” -Edmund Lee

Stop comparing yourself to others:

  • Others’ success is not your failure.
  • Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20.
  • Your value does not decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.

Live according to your values:

  • Make a list of your top 5 values in life. Explore ways you are living in alignment with your values and ways you could improve. Make a plan and notice how it feels to live in alignment with your values.
  • “Practice your values rather than professing them.”-Brene Brown
  • “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you really are.” -Carl Jung
  • Do the right thing when no one is looking.
  • “Don’t share things that aren’t yours to share-it erodes trust and confidence.” -Brene Brown

Be mindful of your past successes and accomplishments:

  • List those times when you really, really, really wanted to give up, and didn’t.
  • List those times when you were scared and self-conscious and showed up anyway.
  • Find the meaning or wisdom gained through life’s challenges.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate goals you have met, no matter how small, progress is progress people!








All the Boos Without the Booze: How to Have a Haunting Halloween in Sobriety

Article Submitted by guest author Caleb Anderson of Recovery Hope
Photo Credit: hzv_westfalen_de, Pixabay

While celebrating Halloween may have previously entailed dressing up in a costume, heading to a party, and drinking alcohol or using substances, now that you’re in sobriety, that’s obviously not a party you want or need to attend. Luckily, there are plenty of more low-key and sober options that are fun or scary, and some are a little bit of both. From themed parties to scary movie marathons, you’re sure to find a way to have a haunting Halloween in sobriety.

Throw a Themed Party

Hosting your own sober Halloween party is a great way to celebrate the holiday without the presence of substances. Make the party a themed celebration to take the festivities up a few notches. The decorations, food, beverages, and costumes can be centered on the theme. For example, you can host a Harry Potter-themed party, complete with a Sorting Hat game and Golden Snitch cake pops. Ask guests to dress like their favorite houses or characters.

A Nancy Drew Mystery Party and a Clue-themed party are also great ideas. Either option sets up the opportunity to have guests solve mysteries during the get-together. For Clue, guests can wear colors of their favorite characters, and a Nancy Drew can feature magnifying glass cookies and campy detective decor. Other themes can be The Nightmare Before Christmas, a mad scientist’s lab, or a haunted house.

Host A Pumpkin Carving Party

Carving pumpkins is one of the most popular Halloween traditions, so why not host a pumpkin carving party on Halloween night? You can either provide pumpkins for everyone or ask guests to bring their own pumpkins. If you choose the latter, you should still have a few on hand in case someone forgets to bring one. The best carving pumpkins are smooth, firm, and symmetrical. You can also print out pumpkin-carving templates and patterns.

Carving outside is ideal since pumpkin carving can get messy, but if the weather doesn’t permit outdoor carving, set up a station inside. Cover the tables with newspaper, kraft paper, or a disposable tablecloth. Because pumpkin flesh and seeds can be slippery, consider covering the floors too. Serve fall-inspired food, drinks, and desserts like pumpkin-shaped cheese balls, warm apple cider, and leaf-shaped cookies.

Go to a Halloween Party

Instead of hosting your own Halloween party, you can attend a friend’s spooky bash. However, planning ahead before you go is crucial if you go this route. Bring a sober friend with you if possible, and always determine transportation arrangements beforehand. Either drive your own car or have the number of a cab company in your phone so that you can leave when you’re ready, especially if you start to feel uncomfortable.

Someone may offer you a drink without knowing you’re in sobriety, or someone may try to pressure you into using substances. Think of a script to say “no” so the person knows you’re definitive in your decision. Also, when you arrive at the party, scope out the layout so you can have a smooth exit if you need to leave.

Visit a Haunted City

This Halloween, take a trip to a city with a haunting history. Whether you live on the East Coast or the West Coast or somewhere in between, there’s bound to be a haunted city near you. Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA are two of the most popular destinations. Some hauntings in Charleston have been reported since the 1700s when pirates were hung, and Savannah is dubbed “the most frightening city and seaport in all of America” by the Travel Channel.

Boston, MA is an obvious choice because of the soldiers who perished in the Revolutionary War, but it’s also home to the first person to be persecuted as a witch. San Antonio, TX features a few haunted hotels, which have been the site of murder and disruption throughout history. You can also add St. Paul, MN; San Francisco, CA; Chicago, IL; New Orleans, LA; Gettysburg, PA; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Portland, OR; Washington, DC; and Charlotte, NC to your list.

Of course, you shouldn’t feel bad about staying home and watching scary movies or handing candy out to trick-or-treaters. You should do whatever you feel comfortable doing that doesn’t involve using substances. As long as you make a plan and prepare for the evening, you can have a fun and frightful Halloween while staying focused on your goal of sobriety.

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