The Celebrity Therapist

Have you ever felt you have trouble with your impulse control or coping skills?  Do you get anxious easily?  Do you have difficulty accepting help from others?  Do you self medicate and don’t consider yourself an addict or alcoholic?  These are some of the symptoms of being an adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA).

The media spends so much time on alcoholics and addicts because let’s face it, celebrity addiction is scandalous news and it goes along with a generation of “celebrity worshipers.”  However, there is a whole population of others that suffer along with the addicts and alcoholics?  They are known as Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA’s). Their issues are just as painful and as you may already know, addiction is a family disease.  Growing up as a child in a family of alcoholics and addicts can be extremely traumatic.

If you answered yes to most of the questions above, you may be dealing with the after effects of growing up in a chaotic family system.  Other symptoms of ACOA’s can include having a loss of trust in others and yourself, always feeling helpless, self-destructive behaviors, shame, intimacy problems, isolation, and somatic issues.

I have one client who had been self sufficient, a high achiever, raised two children, and when she decided to retire, she developed a host of problems including panic attacks, severe depression, and fibromyalgia.  She was experiencing trauma frozen in her body.   Now all her childhood pain being raised by a mentally ill and alcoholic mother was expressing itself physically and emotionally.

·         If you or someone you know is exhibiting these symptoms, there is help out there.  See a psychotherapist, psychiatrist, a chemical dependency counselor, a spiritual advisor, and most importantly go to an Al-Anon meeting. Al- Anon offers strength and hope for friends and families of problem drinkers and Nar-Anon is for families of addicts.  At least four other people are effected by someone’s addiction or alcoholism.   Another helpful program is Codependents Anonymous (CODA).  I started my road to recovery in the rooms of Coda.  It is a program that helps individuals who have the tendency to be people pleasers and excessively caretaking focusing on others.


·         When you are continually dealing with the trauma of having an addict and alcoholic in your life, the continual focus on them can have an extremely negative impact on your own relationships and quality of life.  Sometimes you don’t even realize you are being codependent because you were so invisible growing up in a family where your own needs weren’t met.  You were too busy taking care of your sick parents in their disease of alcoholism or addiction and never learned to take care of yourself.  Take care of yourself now.  You are that important.


Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach.  She is the author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery.”  She is the Life Coach and go-to expert on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and has created a seven step program for uniting the concepts of the Law of Attraction with one’s authentic self for a powerful recovery.


Lindsay Lohan has been sentenced to 90 days in jail which we have been hearing repeatedly for violating the terms of probation.  It stems from two drunk-driving arrests in 2007 and her repeatedly failing to follow the terms of her probation.  One of the common traits I have noticed in my practice is addicts and alcoholics, including myself, have difficulty with authority figures and being told what to do.  There are many reasons for this which can include having a very authoritarian parent and being raised so strict and    punished so severely, you never had a chance of expressing your own feelings.  It could be perhaps the opposite where your parents were not present for you emotionally or physically, and, therefore, you became an adult child quite early running your own rules. These would definitely be reasons to run your own show and to resent and despise others telling you what to do.  

In Lindsay’s case she became famous quite young, and most likely had many handlers around her or are what are known as “yes” people.  You have seen these handlers around other actors, actresses, and musicians such as   Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and tragically they could have been responsible for enabling Michael Jackson to his death.  This Hollywood treatment had to have given Lindsay a feeling of being in total control and somehow not having to abide by the same standards that others do in the court of law.  In fact, she has not complied seven times to the court’s orders.  Her disrespect by the profanity painted on her finger nail toward the court is an example of such disregard for the legal system, and on some level herself.  

Lindsay is still experiencing herself as the “victim”, and until she realizes she is responsible for her actions, no one else, she will remain one.  Until the consequences of her behavior become so un-tolerable for Lindsay, she will keep doing what she is doing to self-destruct.  I don’t necessarily believe jail is the answer for her, but I know something very drastic has to change for Lindsay to make the shift from feeling like a victim to becoming a victor.

Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is the author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery”, and Life Coach on Celebrity Rehab on VH1. She has a private practice where she does psychotherapy, life coaching, participates in webinars, tele-seminars, and speaking engagements.


It’s been about a year since Michael Jackson died, and the anniversary has brought him back into the news and into my thoughts. Michael’s path to addiction and, eventually, overdose, was typical of so many addicts.


          It started with the childhood he never had. Many addicts come from families in which there is some type of dysfunction. Perhaps their parents were also addicts or they had some kind of serious physical or emotional illness. Perhaps the parents, for some reason, were simply unable to be preset for their children. Whatever the reason, the children get thrust into the role of caretaker to their parents–a role they can’t possibly fulfill, because, after all, they’re just children. So they fail and fail and fail again, and grow up believing they can never succeed.


          For Michael Jackson, he was thrust into the role of family breadwinner at a very early age. And on top of that responsibility, he had a physically and verbally abusive father who was never satisfied with anything Michael did. Obviously, the nurturing, safe environment children need to grow up in, to make mistakes in, to be protected in, did not exist for him.


          As an adult, Michael spent a lot of his enormous wealth trying to create a childhood for himself. He built an amusement park and a zoo on his property, he surrounded himself with children, and, eventually, he adopted children whom he regarded as his playmates. He also surrounded himself with reminders of his enormous popularity and with people who would always agree with him and never tell him that we was wrong.


          It was all supposed to erase a childhood filled with messages of failure and demands that he be an adult. But, as we know, it didn’t work. Because we can’t erase our childhood. No amount of money in the world can buy back the past. We have to learn how to deal with it, move beyond it, get ourselves into the present. When we keeping living in our painful past, we end up medicating and numbing ourselves–just as Michael Jackson did.


          But even when you have enough money to keep a doctor on payroll, so you never need to hustle for illegal drugs of questionable purity or potency, addiction eventually overtakes you. You need more and more drugs just to stay numb, and there comes a time when you go too far.


          You cannot change your past. But you can learn how to live your life fully awake, fully alive, in the present moment. When you do that, you no longer need to be numb. As Michael Jackson’s sad end shows us, you cannot go back in time, full of regret. You can only go forward, full of hope and compassion.


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


I read a very painful article the other day about a woman in her 30s from Korea who had been pressured to lose weight, and died from being on a so-called alcohol diet.  She was skipping all other meals throughout the day only drinking alcohol. According to The  National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) 35 percent of alcohol or illicit drug abusers have eating disorders compared to three percent of the general population. 


It reminded me of clients I have worked with who may not only have an eating disorder, pressured to lose weight due to the pop culture’s emphasis on being thin, or skip meals so they can feel   stronger effects of the alcohol.  How many of you who are in recovery or still struggling, remember not eating so you could get a greater buzz on an empty stomach?  I think we all can relate to that. Right?


 For many young women, eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia and binge drinking or illicit drug use go hand and hand.  What we see in the media puts out teenagers and young women at a greater risk of developing an eating disorder through the portrayal of unrealistic body images. It is no wonder that women’s magazines contain more than ten times more ads and articles related to weight loss than men’s magazines.


 Together or alone, these disorders are lethal.  Some ethnicities such as this young Korean woman, who died, have a reduced amount of enzymes to break down the alcohol, which makes it even more dangerous.  But even with the proper enzymes, just drinking alcohol alone can damage the stomach, esophagus, and liver.  It can also cause malnutrition and reduce the functions of the digestive organs.


Other issues related to a lack of nutrients and oxygen include the risk of  a higher pulse rate, heart attack, forgetfulness known as “Wet Brain”, amnesia, and later Alzheimer’s disease in people only in their 40’s and 50.   According to CASA, it also  lists caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, diuretics, laxatives, emetics, amphetamines, cocaine and heroin as other substances used to suppress appetite, increase metabolism, purge unwanted calories and self-medicate negative emotions.  

The exhaustive report finds anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa as the eating disorders most commonly linked to substance abuse and for the first time identifies the shared risk factors and shared characteristics of both afflictions. The report lists caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, diuretics, laxatives, emetics, amphetamines, cocaine and heroin as substances used to suppress appetite, increase metabolism, purge unwanted calories and self-medicate negative emotions.


Here are some risk factors you may want to be looking for if you know someone who might be suffering from an eating disorder and substance abuse.

1.  Occurs during stressful times.

2.  Family history of the disorder.

3. Low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, low coping skills

4. History of trauma such as sexual or physical abuse

5. Peer pressure

6. Parents who are not present both emotionally and physically

6.  Addiction to celebrities and easily influenced by the media


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