The Celebrity Therapist

The Celebrity Therapist

Celebrating a New Kind of Independence this Fourth of July

posted by sherrygaba

I have had the honor of not only working with alcoholics and addicts in private practice, but at many rehabs throughout Malibu.  Not surprisingly, the census is often down around the Fourth of July, just as it is in December before Christmas and New Years.  Many wait until after the holidays to check themselves in and unfortunately many never quite make it at all.  If you are a recovery alcoholic or addict or know someone who is, I am sure you can relate.  Why go to rehab when you may as well wait until the holiday and parties are over because you know there is going to be a lot of drinking and drugging going on and who want to miss that? Right?  Wrong!

Many of my younger clients who actually are lucky enough to make it to rehab, start climbing the walls around this time.  They wonder what they might be missing out on.  I remind them when they are in fantasy mod of what might being going on outside the gates of rehab, what the reality is.  One young man, who thought he was missing out on all the fun realized that what he was really missing was him being locked up in a friend’s bathroom alone, shooting up, with no one around but him and his needle to keep him company.  Gee, that sounds like fun, right?  Another mom in rehab I remember was feeling guilty because she couldn’t experience the joy of her children watching the fireworks.  After a reality check, she realize she has never once watched the joy and sparkle in her children’s eyes because she was too busy blacking out after a full day of margaritas and tequila shots.  The harsh reality is the fantasy of what holiday drinking and drugging is usually just that; a fantasy.  Now that you are sober or thinking of getting sober or know someone who is, you actually have an opportunity to enjoy your friendships this year by being present.  You can bring the holiday in by being aware of all the sights, the sounds, the tastes, the smells, and the delicious surroundings of summer without using or drinking.

The following are some tips to help get you through the holiday without having to yet go another year missing the fourth of July in a drunken stupor.  Perhaps this year you will be able to celebrate another kind of Independence Day, a day of no longer needing alcohol or drugs to have fun.

1.        Call a friend, family member, therapist, life coach, or anyone who can support you if you are having cravings.

2.       Meditate and notice your cravings but don’t get stuck in them.  Instead be a curious observe or your cravings.

3.       Pray, recite the serenity prayer over and over again to remind yourself of what you can and cannot control.

4.       Practice a guided meditation of your favorite destination with people whom you enjoy being with sober.

5.       Pick up your daily mediation or positive mediation books.

Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is an experienced professional in the field of addictions and recovery.  She is the author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery.” A licensed psychotherapist and life coach who attended the famous Coaches Training Institute, Sherry received her Masters of Social Work from the prestigious University of Southern California. With fifteen years of experience as a clinician, she has also worked at some of the top rehab centers including the famed Promises Treatment Center in Malibu, CA. The success of her private practice and coaching program made her the go-to expert for Dr. Drew Pinsky on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab 2 and 3 and its spinoff, Sober House, and she will continue as the Life Coach on Celebrity Rehab 4 summer 2010. Sherry’s expertise has been quoted in Cosmopolitan, New York Daily News, E Online, Elle Online, Huffington Post, and she has appeared on Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell, Hollywood Confidential, Inside Edition, Dr. Drew Live, Fox News in San Diego, and KTLA-TV in Los Angeles. Sherry is a frequent contributor to anthologies, blogs, and newsletters, is a sought-after speaker, and lives with her family in Southern California where she maintains an active private practice. Visit Sherry at

Be Ready to Just Say No

posted by sherrygaba

One of the best strategies for staying sober is to avoid old friends who still use and make new friends who don’t. But even sober friends might have a drink or smoke a little marijuana in a social situation. Certainly, you can just be “too busy” for gatherings that take place in a bar or parties where you think there might be pot. But it’s tough to avoid having dinner or a barbecue with friends where there isn’t at least some wine or beer being served.


 How do you just say no? The best strategy is to be ready with a few lines you’ve rehearsed in advance. Imagine yourself in various social situations where alcohol or drugs might be offered and think about how you’re most comfortable saying no. It might just be as simple as “No thanks,” or “No thanks, I don’t drink/smoke.” Practice saying your lines until they feel comfortable and natural.


Then, be prepared to go one step further: Have something else ready to say if you are pressured to take that drink or puff. Do you have to tell everyone you’re in recovery? Not if you don’t want to. You can simply say “No thanks” again and change the subject.  You can say something like, “My doctor told me to cut back,” or “I’m really trying to get healthier and this is one way I’m doing it.” I fyou feel okay with it, you can also say, “I’m in recovery now and I’d really appreciate if you don’t endanger my sobriety.”


How much you do or don’t disclose about your situation is totally up to you. Think about what’s going to be comfortable for you to say, and then practice it until until it feels really natural you don’t have to even think about saying it.


And if your friends are pressuring you to drink or use, stop spending time with them. You don’t need to be around temptation, and you certainly don’t need to be pressured into relapse. But more than that, you need to have friends who respect who you are and how you choose to live your life. If you say, “No thanks, I don’t drink,” that should be it–no explanation needed, no questions to answer. Surround yourself with people who support you on your new path and their positive energy will speed you on your way.


Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach and author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery.”  She is the Life Coach on Celebrity Rehab on VH1 and has been an expert guest on CNN Headline News, Inside Edition, Fox News in San Diego, and KTLA News in Los Angeles.  She has been quoted in the New York Daily News, the Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, E-online, and Elle online. 

Healing Trauma: What your Body Knows, Your Mind Forgets

posted by sherrygaba

 It has become clear to me after years of working in the field of addictions; trauma can play a huge role in determining whether or not a client can heal.  Many clients grow up in dysfunctional families where their parents or caregivers might have been un-available to meet their children’s needs emotionally or physically due to their own addictions or history or trauma.   When they are not present for their children, often these children feel invisible and have difficulty knowing who they are.  They become completely detached from themselves emotionally, physically, and often spiritually.


One way to get in touch with yourself is to become aware of your body signals and to listen to what your body is telling you.    Author Steve Sisgold shared with me that he sees the connection between addictive behaviors, and ways to escape from feeling uncomfortable or painful feelings. Both are repetitive behaviors used to avoid feeling unresolved pain stored in the body. –bottom line, they enable the “user” to avoid feeling difficult feelings. The root addiction underlying all addiction is the compulsive avoidance of feeling–an uncontrollable need to escape the consciousness of fear and pain from something that traumatized your nervous system….and who wants to feel that pain again , after all?


He concurs with me that addictions can sometimes be in response to unresolved trauma and are repetitive attempts to avoid and escape lingering uncomfortable feelings. 


In my book, “The Law of Sobriety” I write that the consequences of having a history of trauma can contribute to participating in behaviors that do not resonate with your true and authentic self. You know these behaviors do not resonate with who your truly are, and yet you fall into the trap of repeating them anyway. Steve says you have the choice to either escape those un-comfortable feelings with something self-destructive or something that actually is healthy and nurturing to your mind, body, or spirit.   Just like addictions and  other self-destructive behaviors are used as numbing agents, why not participate in healthy activities like taking a walk, enjoying nature, meditating, or taking up yoga.  When you participate in these new activities  over and over again in response to whatever your stressor is, it will replace your un-healthy behaviors with healthier ones.  Steve suggests do your best to breathe deeply, feel what you feel, move your body and make a healthier choice.


His book, “What’s Your Body Telling You?” is a great resource for getting in touch with accessing your body’s intelligence and healing the traumas and painful emotions that may be stored in your body. 


Once you begin to release the blocked trauma in your body, energy is released making space for a more peaceful journey through your recovery process.

How Do You Know You Are Addicted?

posted by sherrygaba

This seems like a simple question, doesn’t it? So let’s start with the most simple answer: If you think you have a problem, it’s likely you do. But it’s not so simple after all, because addiction is probably the only disease that manifests by making you think you don’t have a disease. Denial is a hallmark of addiction, and that makes things tricky.


 Because addiction is a disease, it has specific signs and symptoms that doctors recognize. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, classifies addictions based primarily on the severity of the problem. Less severe cases of addiction are called Substance Abuse, while more severe cases are called Substance Dependence.


The DSM defines Substance Abuse as a pattern of use that leads to significant impairment or distress. What they call impairment or distress might be failing to fulfill major obligations at work, at school or at home because you are drinking or using drugs. It might be using while you’re doing something dangerous, such as driving. It might be getting into legal trouble because of your substance abuse. It might be continuing to use even though your substance abuse is causing social or interpersonal problems. The DSM doesn’t say a substance abuser has all of these problems–just one is enough to diagnose the disease.


What about the more severe Substance Dependence? The DSM also defines it as a pattern of use that leads to significant impairment or distress, but the consequences are more serious and include physical problems as well as social and emotional ones. The physical consequences are tolerance (the need to use more and more just to get the same effect), and withdrawal symptoms if you cut down or stop using your substance of choice. As a result, you might take the substance in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than you had originally intended. The social consequences are that you spend a huge amount of your time getting drugs or alcohol, using them, and dealing with the hangovers. You give up social, work and recreational activities that you used to enjoy, because your habit is taking up so much of your time and energy. One emotional consequence is that you know your using is making things worse–making you more depressed, more unhealthy–but you still keep using. Another is that you sometimes wish you could cut down or even stop using, but the wishing just doesn’t make it so.


Again, the DSM doesn’t say you must be having all these problems to be diagnosed with Substance Dependence–any three is enough.


That’s how the doctors define it. But there are some other things to think about as well. If you have trouble living your everyday life sober, you have a problem. If you try to cut down on how much you drink or use drugs and you find that you’re obsessing about using or can’t cut down, you have a problem. If your habit of choice is causing trouble in your life–relationships, physical, financial–but you still can’t stop, you have a problem. If you do or say things under the influence that you would never do while sober, perhaps even hurting people you care about, you have a problem. If you find yourself lying about the substances you use, how often you use them and how you get them, you have a problem. If you rearrange your life to avoid things that might stop you from using or drinking, you have a problem.


Even if you don’t want to see it, even if you feel like screaming that it isn’t so, remember that a big part of addiction is denial. If what I’ve described here sounds like your life–even a part of your life–it might be time to stop denying your addiction.


Remeber, the disease of addiction is the only disease that tries to convince you that you don’t have one.


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