The Celebrity Therapist

After watching a Lifetime movie the other night about the disappearance of Natalie Holloway in Aruba, I found myself feeling very uncomfortable in my own skin.  Of course, I was saddened by the loss of this beautiful young lady and the pain her family has and most likely have continued to endure, but something else was bothering me, as well.

I had a pit in my stomach and it hasn’t gone away. Usually that is a sign I have been avoiding something or numbing my feelings.   I began to remember my own vacation getaways usually to Mexico on Club Med retreats when I was much younger.  The days were filled with lying out by the beach, dancing all night, meeting new people, and most of all lots and lots of alcohol consumption. 

I am convinced I could have ended up like Natalie on any one of those vacations.  It is not important to go into the details and to be quite honest; most of my memories are foggy.  What I do know is I abused alcohol and put myself in dangerous situations time and time again.

 It is unclear what happened, but in the television special it appears Jordan van der Sloot, the boy she was last seen with, took her to a secluded beach where he disposed of her body after she passed out.   It had been reported Natalie had been drinking heavily that night, most likely binge drinking. Often teenagers drink too fast and too much, lapsing into heavy intoxication before they know it.  Joran van der Sloot later reported he and Holloway had been drinking heavily that night. It is unclear how she died but it is quite possible she had alcohol poisoning, experienced a seizure, or could have become unconscious and aspirated on her own vomit.

The following are safety tips to avoid what could end up being your very last vacation:

1.       Limit your drinking.  You can’t fight back and protect yourself in a drunken stupor.

2.      Limit your distance and allow yourself space to prepare yourself against a potential attack.

3.      Consider going on a group date.  Remember safety in numbers.

4.      Don’t ever get into a car with a stranger.

5.      Remember to know the laws.  Rape is defined as forcible penetration of any part of the man’s body on the woman’s openings.  However, this may not always have to be expressed. A sexual act on an unconscious woman can also be considered as rape, since she is devoid of reason.

6.      Carry pepper spray, or mace or other self defense objects with you.

We will never know what happened to Natalie, but we do know what can happen to you or your teenage daughters when they put themselves in these horrific situations.  When you binge drink, you lose all your inhibitions and once that happens, you are putting yourself at risk of possibly being raped or worse dying, as poor Natalie did.    


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


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. 


 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.

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