Thought for the day

Recovery from substance abuse and addiction is hard. The courageous people in my intensive outpatient program affirm that regularly. But not recovering (from addiction, depression, anxiety – anything) is even harder.

One of the hardest things we face in the recovery process is facing the legitimate emotional pain of being human. But if we don’t allow ourselves to feel the acute pain of being alive it only festers into the chronic, dull, ache of all sorts of conditions and/or behaviors; depression, anxiety or the myriad unconscious habits we all embrace.

When tough feelings inevitably come your way, do your best to embrace them with the loving support of someone you can trust. We don’t have to suffer the enduring oppression of substance abuse, addiction, depression, anxiety or anything else if we take the leap of faith and get into the recovery process of our own choosing.


Yoga philosophy for treatment of substance abuse and addiction

I have been studying yoga for roughly six years now. The applications to recovery from substance abuse and addiction are many. One of my biggest influences in the yoga studio called Inner-Vision Yoga in Chandler and Tempe Arizona ( This is a world class yoga studio that has taught me as much (or more) about how to do psychotherapy as any other professional continuing educational experiences I have had.

One of the hundreds of practices that transfers from the eight-limbed path of yoga to recovery from substance abuse and addiction is the principle of acceptance. One of the hardest things for us in recovery to do is to learn how to accept things as they are. This doesn’t equate with apathy or resignation. Acceptance is an active practice of coming out of our ego. It involves awareness of our unconscious, habitual patterns of reactivity and making more conscious choices about how to live our lives. We can accept something even as we actively work to change it.

The interested practitioner will benefit greatly from Rolf Gates’ book “Meditations from the Matt” regarding how to apply the many principles of yoga to your ordinary, everyday recovery behaviors.





Cinema Therapy in the treatment of substance abuse and addiction

Cinema therapy is a powerful form of psychotherapy. It is particularly applicable to the treatment of substance abuse and addiction. In the intensive outpatient program we watch clips of various movies for many therapeutic reasons. Recently I showed a scene from the movie “My name is Bill W.” to depict the nature of loss of control. People feel powerfully understood when they see that they’re not alone with such a mighty illness. We’re all in recovery from something (or could be). If you choose to watch this powerful film about recovery let me know how you identify with it.

Wholeness in addiction recovery

Easing into wholeness is an idea that personally inspires me.

In his poem called “Healing,” D.H. Lawrence reminds us that “(we) are not a mechanism…” He accurately points out that we all carry our personal brands of woundedness which set us up to unconsciously repeat self defeating patterns of thinking, feeling, acting and relating to others.

So what’s the fix? Trick question, because no such ”fix” exists. Even if it did we wouldn’t need it.

Why? Because we’re not broken (even if that doesn’t currently feel true on the inside).

One interesting interpretation of the concept of healing is to change our relationship to our pain, whether it be physical, mental, emotional etc. But we don’t want to feel pain at all. Oh well, that doesn’t make it go away does it? So we use myriad compulsive behaviors as temporary forms of escape to avoid or numb our pain out, only to have it eventually come back and bite us on the hind end in some form or other.

So what to do? In my program, we use all sorts of modalities to learn to embrace our humanity. Among other things, we learn about the paradox of acceptance of our pain to ultimately transcend it. Transcendence is not synonymous with denial or avoidance. Transcendence means to fully experience our humanity on all dimensions (including pain) and to go beyond it, cultivating a rich an robust experience of ourselves.

This week, the brave participants in program responded beautifully to the power of yogic breathing, meditation, story telling, music, and journaling to skillfully work with their humanity.

In honor of their courage, and yours, this poem, first dedicated to my friend, Lindsey, now goes out to all the ordinary heroes:


Hail to the brave, ordinary heroes

of everyday life,

to those who are willing

to triumph over the inevitable pain

of transformation.

Dreadfully they advance directly into the fire of life,

heralding in the scorching flames of the unknown.

For without their fear,

there could be no genuine courage

sufficient to embrace the white hot burning of insecurity.

Hail to the nameless masses

who enter the frigid waters of sorrow

swimming willfully into that darkness

to the point of no return.

Sometimes boldly, they traverse the mystery of time,

embracing the quest of their pilgrimage

with no guarantee of survival.

Dispassionately too, they descend the well of grief,

wade through the quicksand of loneliness,

all in good faith that the only way out

of life’s sublime ordeal

is to joyously journey through it.

      ©  Bryon Sabatino, 1999

The Four Horses and Substance Abuse Recovery

Because growing is an inside job, quality therapy involves a truly personal touch; addressing not only your problems, but in discovering who you really are deep down inside and how you function to restore your wholeness and passion for life. The process involves finding something within yourself so inspiring that it is more compelling than your habitual patterns of thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, emotions, behaviors and ways of relating to yourself and others.

The story of the four horses says it best:

The ancient story goes that  there are four kinds of horses: the excellent horse, the good horse, the poor horse and the really bad horse.

  • The excellent horse moves before the whip even touches its back: just the shadow of the whip or the slightest sound from the driver is enough to make the horse move.
  • The good horse runs at the lightest touch of the whip on its back.
  • The poor horse doesn’t go until it feels pain, and the very bad horse doesn’t budge until the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones.

When people hear this story, they usually want to be the best horse, but actually it doesn’t matter whether we’re the best horse or the worst horse. The really terrible horse can be the best practitioner.

Practice isn’t about being the best horse or the good horse or the poor horse or the worst horse. It’s about finding our own true nature and speaking from that place, acting from that place.

Whatever our qualities are, that’s our wealth and our beauty; that’s what other people respond to.

If practice is too easy, you just relax. You don’t make a real effort and therefore you never find out what it is to be fully human.

Be suspicious of when things are too easy. As long as you have a sense of challenge, your practice will be authentic.


If enough people do their innerwork….

“The only true currency in this world is the truth that we share with each other when we’re not trying to be cool.”

Line from the movie “Almost Famous”


In program tonight we began with our “check-in.” That’s how we start group therapy most nights; with my prompting, some brave soul “breaks the ice” with an honest expression of who they are.

Tonight though, I sat back in my chair and just watched in awe as these brave folks launched into the process all on their own. It occurred to me that we have collectively built such a container of safety that virtually everyone was not just ready, but enthusiastic about letting down their guard and not trying to be cool.

Such amazing things happen in this kind of environment. It not only leaves me feeling privileged for being able to be part of it, but also a little excited about where this could all go if enough people followed their lead.

In a conversation between the famous psychiatrist, Carl Jung and one of his well published students, Robert A. Johnson, Dr. Johnson asked Dr. Jung if he thought that we are going to make it as a human race. Dr. Jung replied “If enough people do their inner-work.”

I was elated by what I was witnessing tonight, but daunted by my thought that, as a society, we apparently still have to create confidential rooms to enable people to speak their truth with an open heart. I forget who it was that said “there’s six billion of us on the planet and we’re all dying of loneliness,” but whoever it was, I have to agree with them.

Why do we try to be so cool unless we’re in a special room with special permission to be real with each other. We don’t have to! Devo gave us permission years ago. Try being real with someone you can trust in your life today. The results may astound you.

A recent Graduation from Substance Abuse Treatment

A young man, let’s call him “B,” just finished one of the programs here this past week. We did his graduation ceremony as is traditional whenever anyone completes the program.

Throughout the program he expressed profound and regular concerns about his inevitable death, as he once again did as part of his graduation ceremony. But on this last night, he asked me about my personal experience with thoughts about death, presumably in part due to my being thirty years his senior, but also, I’m confident, because of the close therapeutic relationship we built together.

As the evening unfolded, I heard myself cautiously sharing some thoughts about death from my perspective, but based on his facial expressions, I’m not so sure it put his youthful worries much at ease.

Also during his ceremony, and on the other end of the continuum, he spoke about his excitement about his imminent plans to move away from Phoenix or “The Skillet” as he referred to it, and begin the next stage of his journey.

The group conversation evolved into something more of a focus on using the inevitability of death to be truly alive in the here and now. Carpe Diem – Seize The Day, was the best we could figure out for that particular session.

Out of the blue I thought of Mitch Album’s poignant book “Tuesday’s with Morrie,” and so I encouraged him to read it to help him further explore his questions.

So last night, I took my copy of the book down from the shelf and re-read a few segments and discovered why the recommendation came to me.

In one passage, Morrie says “Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we’d do things differently…. That way, you’d actually be more involved in your life while you’re living.”

Interestingly, the last chapter in the book is entitled “Graduation,” in reference to Morrie’s death.

I told “B” I would post this blog entry after I gave the matter more thought because I was dissatisfied with my inability to speak better to his questions in group that evening. I hoped, in the mean time, I would come up with a more deserving response to this young man’s troubling questions. But as I sit here, I find that Morrie Schwartz has much more to say about the matter than I do, and much more eloquently, I might add.

So, “B,” again I encourage you to read “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Album and see if some of his thoughts about his own experience of dying don’t remind you of our practice of mindfulness meditation in program and how to use it to fully experience being alive. If you do choose to read it, pay particular attention to the last page where the author asks:

“Have you ever really had a teacher? One who saw you as a raw but precious thing, a jewel that, with wisdom, could be polished to a proud shine?

Please know “B,” that you are indeed such a jewel.

So happy trails to you. If you move away for a day, the rest of your life, or anywhere in between, the adventure will be worth it now that you have so many new skills. And if our paths ever cross again, it will certainly be my pleasure.

Well wishes

A sincere Bon Voyage to “J,” who has decided to break out of the golden handcuffs of a path that no longer serves her. She is, as Joseph Campbell used to say, following her bliss and moving to a different city.

Our last session was last week and despite all the nay-sayers in her life, this young woman is daring to pursue her passion for a career in writing.

By now “J” is, no doubt, on a desert highway, passing some distant mile marker, on her way to her new life. I can just see her with her shades on and singing to her music with a smile on her face as she drives out of bounds.

When the going gets tough, don’t forget to read “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert and keep up the amazing work you’ve been doing with the meditation practice and the “Artist’s Way” work you’ve been doing through Julia Cameron’s creative book.

There’s no such thing as a geographic cure, because, as Jon Kabat-Zinn says in his book of the same title “Wherever you go, there you are.”

But I’m confident that what you are doing “J” is coming from the inside out, and that’s what makes this different. Your heart and soul have outgrown the illusive constraints that others would have you believe in.

I know you will excell at anything you put your effort into, so shine on you crazy diamond and stay in touch when you can

A clients spiritual pilgramage story

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Marcel Proust

In what may well be my last session with Paul today (he gave me permission to use his name), we spoke of his plans for an upcoming spiritual pilgrimage.

Now there’s a tricky concept; spiritual pilgrimage. Because our plans to do things for our spiritual growth don’t always go the way we plan.

Many of us have gone to great lengths to deliberately induce spiritual experiences only to find that the more unpredictable events in our lives are as much a part of our pilgrimage as any self induced adventure. This idea is reminiscent of John Lennon’s famous quote; “Life is what happens while we’re busy planning other things.”

To further his spiritual growth, Paul was planning what the Australian aboriginals call a walk-about. But, switching continents, as the Native American saying goes; “nothing makes the creator laugh more than someone with a plan.”

Paul’s ideas for his spiritual growth were as sound as they were sincere. I think there is great value in planning formal spiritual pilgrimages. But he, like so many others, found that life threw him a serious curve ball in the midst of his plans.

In the powerful book (and movie) “Way of the Peaceful Warrior,” Dan Millman points out that there are no ordinary moments in life. While we’re busy planning romantic ways to learn our lessons, life is right under our nose the whole time trying to show us that the way is also less dramatic, at times, than we think it needs to be. If we only pay attention to the moments of our daily lives, as well as the choreographed, “special” moments, we could extract the same quality lessons from our experiences.

Rather than a solitary journey in nature, Paul’s walk-about ends up, for the moment, being completely different than he planned, rerouting him to a place and a situation he wouldn’t have chosen. But there is a hidden perfection in this scenario.

Because, when you think about the true nature of initiation, it makes sense. In traditional cultures, initiation ceremonies were imposed on the boys of the village, often times against their will, to turn them into men. The rituals used were terrifying and even life-threatening by design to induce a true transformation of the psyche.

Mythologists, Michael Meade and Joseph Campbell are two stellar resources on this subject for the serious student of initiation or what we call maturation today.

Unfortunately, contemporary western culture is all but void of formal, initiatory, rites of passage, which are truly transformative to the psyche. This is why we have millions of people walking around in adult bodies feeling like children in disguise.

In Robert Bly’s books, “Iron John” and “Sibling Society,” he goes into rich depth about the ramifications of this cultural dynamic.

Paul’s poignant expression of profound fear in response to this change up in his plans is appropriate to his initiatory process. Life will eventually have it’s way with us, and part of the maturation process is accepting life on it’s own terms.

We’re supposed to be afraid, just as afraid as our ancestors were as they were heralded through their initiatory ordeals. When we fully embrace the texture of our fear (or any other emotion for that matter), only then can we let go of it enough to do the next right thing in our lives. The only time we can exercise courage is in the presence of our daunting fear.

So in reference to Marcel Proust’s above quote, Paul, since the new landscape you planned doesn’t seem to be in your immediate future, you can still return home “with new eyes.” That is to say, with the same adventurous attitude (if not experience) that you were approaching your previous plan with.

Growing up is a process, Paul. You can and will mature with the rest of us to the degree that you choose on a daily basis. We’re all in the same boat. Precious few people are as emotionally mature as they are chronologically old. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, only observed, accepted and skillfully worked with towards change and growth.

In “Rules For Being Human,” Cherie Carter-Scott points out, among many other profound things, that “There” is no better place than “here.” When your “there” has become a “here,’ you will simply obtain another “there” that will once again, look better than the new “here.”

You’re a good man, Paul! I am proud of the difficult work you’ve been doing. It’s been my pleasure to work with you and my privilege to witness your growth. Just remember, the prize is in the process, my friend, so don’t give up on yourself and may our paths cross again.

Rules for Being Human – Addiction Recovery Support

Rules For Being Human

By Cherie Carter-Scott

(Self-discovery questions added)

* You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period this time around.

What do you like about your body?

How do you show your body that you value it and are grateful for what it does for you?

What are you willing to start/stop doing to take care of your body?

It has been said that the body is the temple of the soul. If you really believed this, what, if anything would you do differently with or for your body?

* You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time school called life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant and stupid.

What lessons has life been trying to teach you?

Which of these lessons have you heeded?

Which of these lessons have you repeatedly ignored?

* There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial and error and experimentation. The “failed” experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiments that ultimately “work.”

What experiences have you thought of as mistakes or failures, that might really have been valuable lessons or opportunities?

* A lesson is repeated until learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can then go on to the next lesson.

Write about a lesson that has presented itself to you in various disguises over time.

* Learning lessons does not end. There is no part of life that does not contain it’s lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to learn.

What lessons have you already learned?

Do you tend to learn lessons the hard way? If so, how can you begin learning them in easier ways?

* “There,” is no better place than “here.” When your “there” has become a “here,” you will simply obtain another “there” that will again, look better than the “here.”

Write about as many examples of “there” as you can recall in your life. What is your current “there?”

How many times have you said something like “I’ll be happy when…?”

What can you do to live more in the present moment and realize that happiness is not about some future condition, but rather a present attitude?

* Others are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects to you something you love or hate about yourself.

Don’t ya just hate this one?

How can you continue or begin to allow others to be your teachers?

The only way we can change something about ourselves is to bring compassionate awareness to it. How can you bring compassion to what you disapprove of about yourself.

* What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.

What choices do you want to pay more attention to and perhaps modify for yourself and the quality of your life?

* Your answers lie inside of you. The answer to life’s questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen and trust.

How can you look within to begin listening for the answers inside yourself?

How can you cultivate more trust in yourself?

This poem by Rilke speaks well to the spirit of this:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart
And love the questions themselves
Like locked rooms and books that are written in foreign tongue.

Do not now seek the answers which cannot be given you
Because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is to live everything.

Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Maria Rilke