Healing the Heart for Connection & Happiness

Healing the Heart for Connection & Happiness

There’s a story I share with my clients that comes from Robert Bly, an author and poet who wrote a book called “A Little Book About the Human Shadow”.  He says we’re all born as beautiful, loving golden globes of light and energy. As we grow up in our families, go to school and develop friends, we feel loved or not, to varying degrees. In response, we often give up parts of ourselves to please our parents, our teachers, churches, friends, etc.

Guest Blog - Belle Robertson*

Guest Blog - Belle Robertson*

Guest Blog - Belle Robertson
The sewer, the manhole cover, and the forecast is sunny

Quitting drinking is like getting out from underneath a manhole cover. It’s a big, weighty thing that threatens to slam back down on us if we aren’t careful....

The Opposite of Addiction is Not Sobriety: It’s Connection

The Opposite of Addiction is Not Sobriety: It’s Connection
My friend Marianne Peck, MFT says “people are dumber than rats.” Well, in some circumstances, perhaps. She’s talking about the addictive choices people make. See what you think after reading this article by Johann Hari. Put a rat it in a cage and give it two water bottles. One is just water, and one is water laced with either heroin or cocaine. If you do that, the rat will almost always prefer the drugged water and almost always kill itself very quickly, right, within a couple of weeks. So there you go. It’s our theory of addiction.

Should We Legalize Marijuana? No. Why Pot is NOT a Nothing Drug

Should We Legalize Marijuana? No. Why Pot is NOT a Nothing Drug
Should we legalize marijuana? I say no. Decriminalize, yes. I should be upfront and say I have a skewed bias because I have been working as an addiction counselor since 1985. I know, pot affects people differently so if your experience is that it enhances reality, fine. At the age of 20 I smoked daily for a year and it was the most unproductive, wasted, sleepy year of my life. I was able to take care of my son, clean the house and nap a lot. I remember the realization that sluggishness was not how I wanted to live each day, quit and felt mentally clear. But it took awhile!...

The Heart-Break of Addiction

Recently, the San Francisco Chronicle had a heartbreaking letter written by Ricci & Vernae Graham’s about the loss of their son Malcolm to an opioid overdose.

The Graham’s son is a typical story. He got hooked on prescription opioids after a football injury, over time became addicted, had mood problems, got in trouble with the criminal justice system and went through numerous treatment programs. He had periods of sobriety and using until he finally overdosed. His parents did everything possible to help their son. But, it wasn’t enough, in part, because our methods of treating addiction are just not good enough.

As an addiction counselor since 1985 I’ve worked with addicts/alcoholics and many, many family members who desperately seek ways to help their loved ones through the destructive path of addiction. As the daughter of an alcoholic mother, who finally become sober, the sister of an alcoholic who died in 2013 and mother of a son who went through many rehabs before sobriety, I know the pain of addiction on a personal level.

Opioids, both prescribed and street obtained, are a huge problem in the U.S. “The United States comprises 4.6% of the world population, yet consumes 83% and 99% of the worlds oxycodone and hydrocodone supplies.”*

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine 44,000 people die in the United States annually from an overdose of prescription painkillers.

As a nation, we need to fully change our old thinking that addiction/alcoholism is a moral/criminal problem and shift to understanding this is a chronic medical condition, like diabetes, that needs continued treatment to stay in remission. Yes, if someone behaves criminally they need to be held accountable and also need treatment for the addiction.

Family members need better guidance about how to support and not support their loved ones who are struggling with addiction. (See Guide to Parents on website

Johann Hari in his brilliant Youtube clip “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong”  discusses how other countries do a much better job treating addiction (Portugal one example). Shaming, judging and disconnecting from the addict simply doesn’t work to get someone to stop hurting themselves. Learning how to set loving limits is a process and the 12 Step program Alanon is helpful for family members.

My observation is that the addicts/alcoholics who have the best chance of recovery, with our current treatment options, are the lucky ones whose families don’t give up on them and are able to set firm limits about behavior they will or won’t accept.

However, the family can’t make recovery happen. Ms. Szalavitz, author of The Unbroken Brain, states that many addicts outgrow their using in self-harming ways by age 30. I have to say that was true with me.

Staying lovingly connected to a using child or family member is tough business. Most families are not trained in how to cope with their own feelings, while staying connected with love AND holding limits around what is and isn’t acceptable.

A guiding question I encourage parents or family members to ask  is: “Am I doing something for my loved one that they can or should be doing for themselves.”

There is new research about the brain and adolescent vulnerability to using any alcohol or drugs before the age of 21. The Unbroken Brain by Maia Szalavitz, makes the very good point that learning is key to recovery. Learning new ways of thinking and new behaviors, over time, help to re-shape the brain. New ways of behaving and thinking is what a good treatment program and 12 Step Programs teach.

Drug and Alcohol use Prevention needs to be happening in elementary through high school. We can do much better to help children understand the dangers of use before 21 on the developing brain help them make better choices. We did this with cigarette smoking through PSA announcements and educational materials.

Treatment for our loved ones suffering with addiction is not a guaranteed process. It’s often a painful one for both the addict and the family. Hope is always possible.

I know the HOPE and joy when there is family love that encourages someone struggling with addiction to be able to finally make the choice to be sober. My brother Lee, a homeless meth addict a few years ago is now sober 3 and a half years, working, in his own place and with a wonderful woman.


Feel free to use all or part of this blog as long as you list my name, website and contact information.

Lynn Telford-Sahl, M.A. Psychology, Certified Addiction Counselor, Private Practice, Modesto (209) 492-8745

Lynn is the author of Intentional JOY: How to Turn Stress, Fear & Addiction into Freedom.

Internet Porn: Best Sex Ed for Teens?

Is Internet Porn the best sex education for teens? I hope not. According to research by TopTenReview, the average age at which a child first views porn online is 11. Another survey published by Psychologies magazine in the U.K. found that one-third of children surveyed had seen online porn by age 10.

Why are parents still not talking to their children about sex? My parents didn't talk to me either and I ended up a pregnant teen. Talking to your kids about sex is uncomfortable, embarrassing, etc. So, what? Is supergraphic internet porn how we want our children to learn about sex? And, believe me, they're not going to tell you they're watching it.

If you're looking for an informative tell-it-like-it-is Ted Talk to share with a young adult child of yours try: by Cindy Gallop. Watch it first. The website shows 10 myths about porn and their real world comparisons. For example: Myth: All women love to have men come on their face. Real world: Some do, some don't. It’s a non-judgmental, lighter way to see the distortions porn promotes.

As a therapist and woman I'm sad that internet porn has negatively affected so many relationships. I know four women that have ended relationships because of their husband/partners porn addiction and unwillingness to change that behavior. I'm not talking about clients, but friends and acquaintances.

Internet porn is not the Playboy, Hustler or adult store of yesteryear. This stuff is live and action oriented and for some highly addictive. Mari Lee, a therapist who specializes in sex addiction in the Los Angeles area, said in a training I attended, that if cocaine creates a chemical high in the brain 100 times what a drink of alcohol does, porn creates an effect 1,000 times that of alcohol. Now we know why porn can be SO compelling and addictive.

As a Certified Addiction Counselor for 25 years I’ve seen how difficult this behavior is to break. More so than other addictions? Maybe. The brain gets rewired with the intense activity. Normal sex then feels like what? A lukewarm version. For healthy sexuality to feel normal again, the brain and behavior have to be retrained and re-sensitized to normal sexual sensitivity and sensuality. That takes time and practice. Twelve step programs like S.A.A. ( Sex addicts anonymous) are available in most cities now and help break the addictive cycle. A good place to get help is: Or, google S.A.A. 12 step groups in your area. 

Lynn Telford-Sahl holds a Masters in Psychology with a Holistic Specialization from John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, CA. 

Feel free to use all or part of this blog as long as you list my name, website and contact information.

Lynn is the author of Intentional JOY: How to Turn Stress, Fear & Addiction into Freedom.

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(209) 492-8745



Make a Habit, Break a Habit: Here's How:

Make a habit, break a habit. Are addictions treatable habits? Yes, but it's just a little more complicated than that. If you're wondering if you have a drinking problem, do you remember when you first started drinking, what it was you were really going for? Some of my clients report everyone else was doing it - these are usually teens.  For many the drinking provides temporary relief from stress or anxiety, a way to shed the days worries. Or, just to relax and have fun socially. Over time, a habit forms and gets bigger because it creates a craving which can become an obsession.  The habit of self-treating anxiety or stress with a few glasses of wine or a 6 pack of beer. That's when people start to feel really out of control of the addictive habit.

Is it possible to shift drinking behaviors and other addictive habits by developing new routines which become new habits?  Of course. AA members know the truth of this. Sceptical new members attend meetings where they see that seasoned members are staying sober because they've developed the "habit" of attending meetings rather than drinking.  Group support becomes part of the new habit.

What's the process to change a habit?  Let's say you have a slight drinking issue you'd like to adjust. You come home and drink a glass of wine each night with a meal and you're not happy about the weight gain. How do you begin? First of all identify the "cue" or what's driving the craving. For this wine drinking woman, the cue is stress relief. She comes home stressed, tired and a glass of wine relaxes her. The "routine" is getting the bottle out and pouring a glass of wine. The reward is the "relief" as the stress and anxiety melts away as she drinks her wine with her meal.

To change this habit she needs to look at other more positive ways to relieve stress and anxiety. New behaviors which turn into routines could be stopping at the gym and working out for an hour between work and home. Here the cue is the still the stress, but the routine is different and leads to the reward of relaxation AND weight loss. Practicing this change over 90 days will cement in the new habit. The reward of stress reduction with exercise and weight loss helps to keep the new habit in place.  (For more:  read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg)