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Connections Spring-Summer 2012

Behind the Cabinet Door

The household medicine cabinet isn’t the first image that springs to mind when we consider the marketplace for controlled substances. But, put a prescription medication in the hands of someone to whom it was not prescribed—or use it in a way in which it was not intended—and you enter a realm of illegal activity and often unforeseen consequences.

As a leading regional facility for substance abuse treatment and counseling, Carrier Clinic® has long been positioned on the frontlines of the prescription drug abuse crisis. While New Jersey has tended to trail the national average overall, it’s a statistic that offers little comfort to the families of the thousands of Garden State residents who have died from prescription drug use.

It’s a problem that has particular resonance within the adolescent and teen population. In fact, it’s estimated that more teens abuse prescription drugs than cocaine, meth and heroin combined—with painkillers like Vicodin, Oxycodone and Oxycontin especially common.

The biggest problems in combating this crisis arise from the fact that these medications are often not illegal at the point that they become accessible to the abuser. Many people who develop a problem with prescription meds often begin with the best of intentions; feeling safe in the knowledge that a trusted doctor has recommended the drug. Whether arrived at through recreational adventuring or unintentional misuse, a dependency on prescription drugs can lead to severe depression, personality disorders and suicidal impulses.

For more than 30 years, Carrier Clinic® has addressed the ramifications of the growing prescription drug abuse phenomenon (with particular emphasis on opioid painkillers) through a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to the medical, emotional and social needs of each individual, as well as that individual’s family. At the Blake Recovery Center™ (BRC) on Carrier’s Belle Mead campus, a supportive environment is offered via a program of medically monitored detoxification, residential rehabilitation, outpatient services, and continuous counseling.

The element of counseling is a crucial component of the treatment program at BRC. Emphasis is placed on the development of anger and stress management skills, along with education in the behavioral patterns that stand in the way of recovery.

According to BRC Director, Elizabeth Hill, “Family members have an important role to play in the rehabilitation process, from the time that a patient is admitted to the day they return home…things like the weekly family meetings and weekly Parents Support Group demonstrate the value that we place on keeping engaged, and we encourage the family’s voice to be heard.”

This policy of engagement and communication isn’t limited to adults. Young children whose lives are impacted by a family member’s drug addiction can participate in the Bright Futures for Kids program, designed to help ages 4-12 develop the coping skills and the positive social tools they need to live a drug-free lifestyle

“ECT helped me get back to being a well put-together person”

To Carol Kivler, “having it all” also means having lived much of the past two decades with clinical depression—an illness that she describes as being “as much a part of who I am as my long arms, long legs, and dyed hair.”

The veteran international executive coach and corporate consultant never set out to become one of the nation’s most sought-after authorities on the subject of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). But, after having experienced her own journey through the minefields of depression— a journey that first brought her to the door of Carrier Clinic® some 22 years ago, the founder of Courageous Recovery has made it her “ministry” to educate the public on the positives of ECT, an often misunderstood treatment saddled with “a frightening stigma, surrounded by an even more frightening illness.”

Carol was still married to her former husband of over 30 years, and working as an adjunct business professor at Mercer County Community College, when her severe depression made it impossible to function in the home or workplace. After it became evident that prescribed medications had failed to achieve any result, her psychiatrist recommended that Carol consider checking into Carrier, and on the day after Mothers Day 1990, Carol Kivler entered into an experience that, in her words, “gave me back my life.”

This first trip to Carrier’s Belle Meade facility was no overnight success for the new patient, as a supervised program of medication was judged ineffective— and after “24 days in lockdown,” Carol found herself with “very little options…I was consumed with suicidal ideation.”

Something clearly needed to be done, and that “something” was ECT, a form of treatment that has regained a remarkable amount of respect in recent years, after decades of being regarded as an archaic, even barbaric, relic of a less enlightened era. That stigma was still very much in place in the year 1990, a point in which the image of Jack Nicholson, writhing painfully on the shock-therapy table in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” had been seared into the public consciousness.

As Carol explains in the pages of her acclaimed memoir “Will I Ever Be the Same Again?,” ECT turned out to be “the silver bullet that saved my life and pulled me back into the world of the living…in my case, the world of the thriving.” Still, it was not a decision that was arrived at easily—and in Carol’s case, it was a nurse by the name of Diana who “sat with me; convinced me that this is what I needed to do.”

“She said, ‘my face will be the last you see before you go to sleep, and the first you see when you awake’,” Carol says of the Carrier team member. “Her compassion was so genuine, so sincere, that I went back to thank her personally after I was released.”

While Carol would go on to experience three additional episodes of acute depression—and undergo more than 50 ECT treatments during stays at Carrier and other hospitals—she notes that her first few ECT sessions resulted in “a noticeable difference in my outlook and mood, and within a few months I was in recovery.”

That first stay at the Carrier campus also made Carol Kivler a believer in the therapeutic power of keeping engaged and active as a way to counter the isolating qualities of both the disease and the treatment; a regimen in which “you have to learn how to sleep again, how to eat, how to be yourself again.”

“I had lost all structure in my life, and when I first came to Carrier I remember going to horticulture class, dance class, yoga, walking,” says the woman who continues to maintain a daily wellness routine of gym visits, outdoor recreation, and journal writing. “In a way, it was like being on The Love Boat!”

In recovery now for the better part of a decade, Carol Kivler would leave teaching and return to school for her Masters degree, starting up Kivler Communications in 1994 as a natural outlet for “my gift for persuasion and influence.” Still, even with her life back on track it would take Carol a full ten years to “open the door” and go public with her ECT experiences—a decision that she now considers “the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”

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