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Where in the World is Matt Lauer: Some Thoughts for Addiction and Recovery

"Fortune favors the bold."  – Virgil

This past Thursday on NBC’s The Today Show Matt Lauer visited the Jungfrau Observatory in the Swiss Alps.  In this segment he met up with legendary climbers who reach great heights.  Specifically he focused on three climbers and their motivations, techniques, and focus used to climb the iconic north face of the Eiger Peak (elevation 13,000 feet).  All three men had something to say that reminded me of  the dangers of sex addiction and the sometimes unimaginable quest in reaching the summit of successful recovery. 

First, the story of John Harlen, the first American to climb the steep and craggy north face of the Eiger tells the tale of obsession, motivation, and the quest for redemption.  Four years after solidifying his place in history as the first American to climb the north face, Harlen died taking a more direct route up in 1962.  Sex addiction is a diesease of incresing escalating behaviors.  Some may die in the quest for even greater new heights.  

Forty years later his son, John Harlen III, climbed the same route that his father had perished on.  He said he had to do it and felt it was cathartic to get to know his father.  I am not sure what exactly motivated his son, but I know often in families we consciously or unconsciously follow in family footsteps to understand the things that are not, or cannot be, talked about.  I surmise it gave him a chance, in not physically knowing his father, to know him a little better to literally climb his path.  I wonder if there was an element of re-righting what could not be done in the previous generation – a kind of healing that allows one to close “the undone” in families.

Next, Ueli Steck, was interviewed.  Steck is best known for his speed record in reaching the summit of the Eiger.  Usually a climb that takes greater than three days on average, Steck made the summit in a staggering 2 hours and 47 minutes!  When asked “how did you do this?”  Steck replied “ I didn’t ‘just do it’, it was training, lots and lots of training! “  Steck went on to say if he doesn’t train well and do the tasks he needs to do well, he dies.  And so it is with sex addiction.  If addicts do not train in new tasks of recovery, they are at risk for dying if the disease progresses unchecked. 

Lastly, Dean Potter, an American on the climbing scene, said in his interview “I love the fact I change the worst possible thing to the best possible thing:  dying to flying!”  Well that caught my attention!  As the scene showed him jumping off the mountain in his flying suit, I thought of those who struggle in the diseases of addiction.  Addiction-to-recovery is a dying-to-flying tale.  The tools of recovery offer the addict the opportunity to right a hopeless path.  

All three stories have elements of warning and success in reaching great heights in recovery.  Obsession motivates, obsession gives us quest, but some may die in their quest. Some may die in the addiction if they don’t get their training rituals right in recovery. That training for technique must be the new obsession, if one is to truly be successful.  I have heard Dr. Patrick Carnes say addicts need to do something in the practice in their recovery at least 45 minutes every day.  The men in my early recovery group know if they apply themselves to the techniques of recovery laid out for them, they get better.  They begin to trust successful training begets more success in their recovery and life.   Many I sit with in active addiction process are seeking the next height of escalated dopamine hits from a brain science perspective.  This height is their mountain. Some men I have sat with in their sex addiction have put themselves at great risk for deadly disease, physical danger, or other severe consequences of acting out.  Feelings of worthlessness keep one stuck in the throes of the disease.  If one can enter recovery by taking the plunge, one can create a life of soaring unimaginable heights that Dean Potter demonstrated:  Dying to flying!  That is the true story of addiction and successful recovery.   If you struggle, I hope you trust taking the plunge and creating new positive rituals will bring you to new unimaginable heights.


If you care to watch the segment:


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New Information on Sex Addiction

This past month I attended the SASH conference (Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health) in San Diego.  The list of professional presenters and topics these professionals lectured on were quite impressive.  Presenters included such industry standouts in the field of Sexual Compulsivity, Addiction, and Trauma included:  Dr. Patrick Carnes, Alex Katehakis, Rob Weiss, Terry Real, Dr. Janina Fisher, and Kelly McDaniel.  There is exciting research coming out of a field which is working together to help those in need of healing from this addiction.  I was grateful to spend time with those in the industry on the frontline of research at a national level. These clinicians and researchers help further knowledge, understanding, and help alleviate the pain and symptoms of those who struggle.

I also had the chance to spend time with staff and clinicians that own or work at top-notch treatment centers and Intensive Outpatient Centers from a variety of places in our country.   Knowing how others work, what level of treatment they offer, and seeing their professionalism firsthand, gives me confidence to refer a client when there is a higher level of care necessary than the outpatient services I offer.  There are a couple of reasons clinicians will look at what level of care a client needs.  Safety issues (harm to self or others) and difficulty in maintaining sobriety are a couple of factors to be examined when selecting the appropriate level of care necessary for achieving successful sobriety.

My clients often suffer from more than one addiction.  Many tell me they have kicked their cocaine or alcohol habit in the past, but sex addiction is a much harder addiction to tackle.  Dr. Carnes speaks to that point when he looks at possible reasons behind this fact. The neural networks for sex and love are related to our survival needs.

I will be highlighting recent presentations, research, and components of treatment gleaned at this conference in future posts.  

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Recovery, Sobriety, and the Art of Endurance Training

“In my preparation for the race I am focusing on what I can influence for top performance and letting the actual result of the race come as it will."    — Ruthie Matthes

I spend a lot of time training for events in my life both personally and professionally.  I am a goal oriented person.  I attribute much of the achieved success I have aimed for in my life to goal setting and surrounding myself with a supportive network to achieve those goals.   I have thought how similar that is to those I see who are successful in their recovery processes from addiction.  Nowhere in my life is that training more evident than in the endurance sports I engage in and the circle of endurance athletes I am privileged to observe and hang with.

I am not a natural athlete.  Truth be known, “athlete” is a term I use loosely for demonstration purposes, only.  Most endurance athletes I know have natural abilities to help them but it is still hard work for them to get to the finish line.  Most people I see in successful recovery work hard to be successful.  This observation is not meant to be a de-motivator, but an expectation for success.  For those of us who train in endurance sports, it is not about the finish line.  Endurance sports are an entire experience:   putting your goals out there, committing to a training plan, camaraderie of a group going in the right direction, surrounding yourself with those who can support you through the tough times, race day, a sense of self-esteem for sticking to the plan, and – oh yeah – a finish line.

While I was on my bike recently I had these thoughts about the parallels of recovery and endurance training:

1.        Share your goals and live transparently.  I remember the first time I stated to a group of these accomplished friends that I was going to participate in a particular impossible goal/race event for me at the time. It was big for me, but many had done much more than my little goal.  That didn’t matter.  The issue was once I owned my goal to the group, I couldn’t back down.  Putting that intention out there kept me motivated to be on task and also allowed others to help keep me accountable.  The same is true for those entering recovery.  Once you enter the hallways of a 12-step fellowship and pick up your first white chip you give yourself the gift of intention and the chance for a community of support.  Once you decide to live a sober life, sobriety can only be helped by making that thought transparent to a group of people that can help you stay in training.

2.       Have a group to support your goals and stay accountable.  My group of endurance friends that I share my goals with don’t shame me if I fall behind.  They offer me support for the journey.  They help me stay on task by sharing things that have helped them when they struggle.  They cheer me on.  They believe in me when I don’t believe in myself.  They share their own struggle and success which helps me gather things that I can incorporate into my own training.

3.       Have a vision but stick to a plan.  Successful people I know have a plan that guides them.  In recovery one is advised to stick to “one day at a time”.  I remember when I planned for my first 10K.  As I began the training for it, I thought:  There is NO WAY I can run 6.2 miles!  I hear that from people in early recovery!  “I can’t stop drinking forever” or “I can’t stop acting out, it is too hard”.  You don’t have to run 26 miles out the door if you decide to do a marathon.  Recovery doesn’t just happen. You have to begin with the process of sober first.  You have to learn and build upon a foundation of sober while gaining skills to sustain the journey.  You have to know where you are going with a vision and build slowly while sticking to sobriety (the training plan) every day.  Sobriety each day, while learning skills and working a training plan, keeps one fit for the journey of recovery.  Running 6.2 miles is a relatively easy endeavor for me these days but I am forever amazed at the beginning training plan process!

4.       Have a relationship with others who have done what you are trying to do.  Most endurance athletes I know not only surround themselves with a group of motivated people, but they create specific relationships with a coach to support their goals.  The parallel for that in recovery looks like finding a therapist with specific professional knowledge to guide you toward your goals.  They understand predictable pitfalls and safely guide you without putting too much on your plan all at once. Minimally, I suggest one finds a sponsor for accountability and support when the plan gets tough.

5.       Avoid Bonk.  By “bonk” I mean the cyclist’s term for “hitting the wall”.  In recovery terms there is a term “Avoid H.A.L.T.”  Never allow yourself to get overly hungry, angry, lonely or tired.  HALT is when the addict is most primed to take over when you can no longer go on.  It is a dangerous place to be as it does not allow you to continue your journey of recovery.

I wish you success for your goals.  Live transparently, open yourself and your intentions to a group who can cheer you on, enjoy the camaraderie, stick to your plan, don’t lose sight of your vision….and enjoy a healthy sobriety!  Life is not a race, but a journey to be enjoyed.

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Mastery of Fear and Finding Balance in Recovery

Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”

– Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi

Do you remember that first time you tried to ride a two-wheel bike?  Do you remember feelings of fear or excitement?  Do you remember being determined or feeling relegated to defeat before even getting the courage to lift your feet from the ground?  As a cyclist I love the feeling of free-wheeling freedom on my bike, but it wasn’t always that way!  I recently taught my daughter to ride her two-wheel bike and I was reminded of how much trust, skill, and the ability to work through fear was involved in gaining the free-wheeling feeling I love so much.

As I taught my daughter to ride her bike, I thought of the parallels of cycling to successful recovery.  First, do you know where you are headed?  Are you aiming for a vision of successful navigation through fear?  Or are you focused on the fear of the task at hand?  One of my favorite books lately is The Art of Racing in the Rain about a race car driver on the Formula One Circuit.  I thought the metaphor in that book was a brilliant metaphor for recovery, cycling, and life in general.  Danny, the character in the book, was a successful racer and a successful navigator in life’s challenges for the simple thought of:  Our focus determines our future.  Similarly, on the bike or in recovery, if we are focused on fear we are not focused on success.  Danny noticed many racers crashed because they focused on “not hitting the wall” rather than the focus to get around the curve safely. Every racer, cyclist and person in recovery has the ability to know they have the skills to keep themselves safe.  Each time I pushed on the bike teaching my daughter, we would look at where her focus was.  Was she focusing on the fear of falling or the fact she can ride and enjoy herself?

As I sit with clients in early recovery I notice many of these same parallels of how one navigates through the fears of letting go of addiction and gaining a mastery of skills necessary for recovery.   It is a big moment indeed when one is about to leave what they know, even if the chains of addiction are “the hell that they know”.  Often one might feel the hell one knows is often better than the hell one doesn’t know.  There is necessity to trust and let go just as one has to lift one’s feet off the ground to place them on the pedals of the bike.  As on the bike, one needs to begin to find a new balance.  I remind my clients to look at their focus in early recovery as I reminded my daughter to focus on successfully riding the bike.  I ask my clients are you focusing on not using?  Or are you focusing on gaining the skills that support the balance of recovery.  In treatment we are building skills of successful recovery. 

One is scared to give up the addiction because it has helped them cope.  As a cyclist one has to know how to ride on different terrains and under different conditions. Successful cyclists know how to keep themselves safe from crashing.   So it is in recovery, as well.  Life throws us many curves, mountains to climb, downhills and slippery wet pavements.  People who maintain sobriety glean the skills necessary to avoid the crash of relapse. 

Soren Kierkegaard , Danish religious philosopher, wrote about “the leap of faith”.  He noticed independence is born of interdependence in that moment a mother teaches her child to walk.  The child doesn’t have the skills to master walking as it begins its first steps, but the gaze of the child is focused on the mother and the mother encourages the belief to the child they can take that next step.  So, too, in successful recovery we build an environment to support recovery.  12-step groups, treatment groups, and therapy offer environments to build skills.  They allow us to meet the people who can believe in us when we don’t even belief we can do it ourselves.  Independence born of interdependence.

I believed my daughter could ride her bike even before she could believe she could.  Her trust, focus, and interdependence on me to hold her up until she could find her own balance was key to her successful mastery of the task at hand.  My clients come to me to see” the gaze” and a belief that “You can do this!” and learn skills to avoid the crash of relapse.  I recommend 12-step groups to further widen their support and belief networks.  I offer treatment groups which are akin to cycling clinics to handle the climbs and hairpin turns of life.  We focus on the vision of recovery because I do believe focus does determine our future.  I love helping others find the free-wheeling freedom from a life of addiction and keeping themselves safe for the journey of life.

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The Gift of Gratitude in Sex Addiction Recovery

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."   – William Arthur Ward

The marriage impacted by sex addiction is in turmoil for quite some time post-discovery of the addiction.  The betrayal of sex addiction is like no other.  The marriage impacted by addiction is filled with resentment, bitterness, and reactivity.  The addict holds resentment, and even perhaps used those resentments, to fuel the acting-out in the addiction cycle.  In beginning recovery, the partner holds resentments and often feels justified to emotionally brow-beat their sex-addicted partners with reminders of how horrible their actions were.  There is fear their hurts will remain unacknowledged.

In recovery, there are many paradoxes.  Part of recovery includes the process of gratitude.  John Gottman, a prolific researcher of relationship dynamics, notes marriages have certain tolerance limits in the ratio of positive to negative strokes that a marriage can endure.  The climate of a marriage is created by these positive strokes and negative strokes, e.g.  criticisms and compliments.   Twelve-step programs advocate a process of amends and affirmations.  I talk with couples about how they unknowingly place bricks on the emotional wall of hurt between them.  Bricks become placed, and walls built, by criticisms aimed at their partner.  Similarly, those bricks can be removed by amends of apology or affirming the spouse.

When a marriage is in the darkest hours of sex addiction impact, the risk is to stay protected and walled-off.  I am asked in the treatment room by addict and spouse alike “how should I act towards my spouse during this difficult time?”  Expressions of gratitude in early stages of marital repair, are very difficult.  Expressing gratitude is not forgiveness nor is it absolution of behaviors.  Feelings need to be expressed.

Those bricks which keep emotional distance active need to be replaced.  I advocate boundaries to build appropriate walls of emotional safety instead. Gratitude is one tool of many needed in the recovery tool belt to address the systemic dynamics of addiction.  Gratitude is a tool that can serve to keep a couple engaged and help facilitate healing and growth in the marriage.  Expressions of gratitude have the potential to shift the healing process from a vision of fault-finding to a vision of healing.  Focus on gratitude leaves less focus for resentment.  This focus has the potential to make three gifts.  Gratitude is a gift that happens in one’s heart first by letting go of resentments, and when expressed, is a gift to their spouse. This ultimately is a gift to the relationship. 

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Miracle of Recovery

Did you ever see the movie “Evan Almighty”?  Evan was tasked with building an ark in modern times because the flood was coming.  He kept praying for patience, but patience never came.  The situations that allowed him to develop patience kept coming, not the skill or attribute of patience.  Recovery is like that.  The people I sit with in early addiction recovery sometimes sit waiting in abstinence of the acting out for recovery to come….waiting for it to arrive.  It takes some time and “program development” to understand that their consistent work, building the muscle of recovery, if you will, over time to live in the life of recovery.

"Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle."

–  Phillips Brooks

Did you ever see the movie “Evan Almighty”?  Evan was tasked with building an ark in modern times because the flood was coming.  He kept praying for patience, but patience never came.  The situations that allowed him to develop patience kept coming, not the skill or attribute of patience.  Recovery is like that.  The people I sit with in early addiction recovery sometimes sit waiting in abstinence of the acting out for recovery to come….waiting for it to arrive.  It takes some time and “program development” to understand that their consistent work, building the muscle of recovery, if you will, over time to live in the life of recovery.

Recovery is an inside job of small acts developed over time.  Phillips Brooks quote struck a cord with me.  Sometimes in early recovery we hope for easier situations to deal with and wonder when the collateral damage of our addictive actions and acting out will cease.  Do not pray for easy lives, pray to be stronger within to meet the external tasks.  The miracle is not the work…the miracle is you!

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Sex Addiction, Habits and Winning Recovery

"Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit."
– Vince Lombardi

The Packers have another super victory after Super Bowl XLV yesterday.  Vince Lombardi, former coach to Green Bay, has many books written about his great strategies for coaching and his winning attitudes.  Lombardi was fierce to find principles that work.  The small successful strategies applied over time led to a monumental and admired career legacy.

I was struck by his quote: “Once you learn to quit, it becomes habit.”  To me, there is a double entendre.  I thought of addiction.  any addiction is a series of bad habits going in the wrong direction—heading towards the wrong goalpost, if you will. Recovery needs new habits, a collection of good choices, redirected towards the right goalpost.  Initially I read the quote as: once one learns to quit a bad habit or addiction, a successful new habit is achieved. I thought about people I see who win in recovery.  The addict that quits bad habits can turn their strategy around. Bad habits need to cease and good choices need to be aimed in the right direction. Quitting those habits of addiction forms a good habit over time with successful, and winning, outcomes. 

Recovery is a season of collected victories with winning habits and attitudes consistently applied over time.  Successful recovery is not to push out the negative, but to invite the light in.  I thought more about Coach Lombardi’s quote:  "Once you learn to quit, it becomes habit."  Now I read it another way completely.  Once one learns to quit, or becomes a quitter, THAT becomes a habit.  Quitters never win.  Winners whether in the Super Bowl, or in recovery, consistently apply winning principles to move in the right direction and never quit. 

Either way one interprets the late Coach Lombardi, it works.  Small successful acts, with movement in the right direction, consistently over time, win the game.  Congratulations Packers!!

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Sex Addiction, the Partner’s Mistrust and Recovery

"To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say."  
– Rene Descartes

The betrayal and discovery of sex addiction in a relationship is a betrayal like no other.  As a CSAT, I sit with people who have felt that very unique betrayal.  Sex addicts are great at hiding and living very compartmentalized lives.  Rare is the sex addict that comes forward to proclaim that they have a problem and need to seek help or treatment.  Once the addiction is discovered, there is a dynamic in the relationship that ensues.  Trust is blown.  The partner feels like the only way to be sure that offending behaviors are arrested is to keep tabs on the offending partner.  In shock they feel if they had not discovered, or happened upon evidence of sorts, then they would have never known.  Continuing to seek the evidence results in what is commonly referred to “pain shopping” in recovery circles.  Pain shopping keeps one stirred up internally and as agitated or “crazy” as the addict is with their addiction. Pain shopping is a straight pipeline to enacting the codependency dynamic in the couple impacted by sex addiction.

I teach spouses and partners of sex addicts that one of their duties of recovery is to stop pain shopping for the addict’s behaviors and to focus on themselves. The fine tuning of their radar that starts from the inside out, rather than looking for the evidence on the outside, to inform within.  If one thinks back really did they know something was amiss in their gut, but couldn’t put their finger on it? Often “No, you don’t understand I had NO IDEA this was going on” is the initial first answer. Upon working through the issues in a way that allows an autopsy of life in active addiction, spouses can begin to recognize there was chaos, tensions, unexplained agitations, that didn’t quite fit the situation. The addict threw out a smokescreen to get the partner off the trail of suspicion. Conflict was often high. They didn’t know WHAT was going on, but often they can now look back and see that the relationship was not right.

Once the addiction is discovered it is an opportunity for recovery. Addicts and partners of addicts MUST both enter into fixing their parts of the broken relationship.  If the addict does start a strong program, one will begin to adopt a transparent lifestyle that results in much less chaos and conflict.  Addicts will begin to act with humility rather than avoid relationships for fear of shame and being found out.  They will be engaged in healthy endeavors that support their care like 12-step groups, therapy, and be accountable to others in their recovery circle.

I advocate betrayed partners begin to use that information gleaned.  I teach partners what recovery truly looks like, for the addict as well as themselves.  I teach betrayed partners to look for those things that give information and wisdom without pain shopping. Pain shopping results in a parent-child marital dynamic.  A parent-child dynamic does not work for any marital relationship and is particularly problematic to the relationship impacted by sex addiction.

A person in recovery acts with humility and kindness.  The addict and the partner in recovery take responsibility for how they contribute to the chaos.  Not only do they apologize or acknowledge mistakes, but they DO things differently to not continue the same mistakes.  I teach the offended partner to sit with their gut. Their gut, their body, their sense of impression knows even if they don’t have the hard evidence.  This gives new meaning to “actions speak louder than words”.

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…Into the Light


Welcome to my website and blog.  This blog started as a vision.  I am proud to finally make it reality.  Similarly, many who struggle in addiction have a vision. The vision is one they can’t quite realize and make reality for themselves.  This blog is an effort to help others actualize the vision they may have for a life free from addiction, free from the chaos that often accompanies addictive process, and help achieve the vision of recovery.  A sober life begins living with intention (and an admittance of powerlessness).

As a Marriage and Family with chemical addiction credentials, I often help people recover from the chains of their substance addictions.  In recent years as I helped people heal from chemical addictions, I would notice internet pornography, excessive masturbation, or other sexual behaviors creeping in as an attempt to self-soothe. I noticed increased presentation of betrayals felt in the marital relationship with discovery of hidden internet use of pornography, chat rooms and emails or texting of sexual nature.

As a therapist I felt helpless to point people in the direction of similar resources that I had referred people to for years in the struggle with their chemical addictions.  I vowed to change that.  This blog is the beginning of that process towards my vision to create resources, answer questions, and create tools to help individuals, couples, and families heal from sex addiction.  The name for this website came to me on a 7-mile run as I trained for a half marathon.  It was a day of intense heat.  I was alone when I would normally have a partner with me to endure the struggle – similar to those in recovery – the power in the group to help endure and support.  As I climbed the hill, fretting about whether I would make it, I began to let my mind wander.  I tried to focus on anything besides how difficult the task was at hand.  I decided to think about the things I wanted to accomplish for resources to help others heal in the struggle with sex addiction.

As I passed a place I had twisted my ankle on a previous run, I had website names swimming through my head, trying to find just the right site name to carry my ideas, allow others to find me, and find my ideas.  I became aware I needed to pay attention to the pine cones that caused me to trip previously.  But just as popped into my head, something physically HIT my head.  I turned in anger because I was sure that something was thrown at me.

One doesn’t do endurance sports without an occasional mishap from a passerby. Similar to the addict, I looked for something to blame. There was no one or no vehicle nearby.  I saw a pine cone rolling across the sidewalk and I laughed.  I turned around to pick it up.  It was a perfectly shaped pine cone.  I said to myself….”that’s perfect”, meaning the pine cone…and then I thought, “that’s perfect!”  Yes, the NAME of the website I was thinking was PERFECT!  I ran home in excitement knowing I must investigate if that web domain name was available.  I considered it a God-moment.  Those, too, are necessary in recovery.  The moment of insight when you know you are on the right path and what you must do.

Dr. Patrick Carnes wrote Out of The Shadows.  The name for that book was a God-moment for him.  It was a book he knew he must write.  This blog is an effort to take those who struggle with sex addiction and the relationships that they are attached to out of the shadows of shame, denial, and suffering and bring them into the light. Living a life free of shame and addiction means living transparently.  In addiction we hide in shame.  In healing we live transparently in the light.

I trained for a year with Dr. Patrick Carnes and his daughter Dr. Stefanie Carnes, foremost authorities on the subject of sex addiction, learning the clinical wisdom in treatment of sex addiction.  Dr. Patrick  Carnes has written over 200 clinical articles and 25 books on the subject. In my year of training, while procuring my CSAT credentials, and realizing the dearth of resources, I wanted to understand more about how Dr. Patrick Carnes does what he does!  He offered to take 30 people on a year long mentoring journey to teach us his process.  I applied and was accepted into this mentoring program. I joke he has become my addiction!

This blog and this website begin the reality for creating the resources I envision.  This website is the first step in bringing the ideas in my head, from the depths of internal vision, and out into the light (in the hopes of helping others heal).