Turning your fear into strength

At times, Talk Therapy Psychology Center hosts articles and important announcements from our partners and clients. Here is a meaningful post from one of our regular contributors:


“Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.”  ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist


Contrary to what our society often tells us, fear is not a character flaw or a sign of weakness. It is a natural human response to danger or discomfort that even the bravest of brave have felt. It is a healthy emotion that has served us throughout the evolution of humanity.


But as natural as fear is, it can also consume us in an unhealthy way and prevent us from growing. Fear can stop us dead in our tracks and hold us hostage in a state of inaction.


Personal development begins when we identify our fears, analyze them in a non-judgmental way, and proactively change our behavior as a result. True strength is not the absence of fear. True strength is the courage to face our fears head on, whatever they may be.


Changing behavior around drug or alcohol abuse typically involves dealing with a variety of fears. Fear of “fitting in,” fear of feeling pain, fear of losing friends, fear of digging up painful memories, and fear of our relationships changing with others are just a few of the fears that may surface throughout our recovery.


Another common fear is the fear of being “exposed” for having a substance abuse problem if we choose to get help. What will our loved ones or friends think of us if we decide to make a deliberate change in our behavior? These fears can keep us paralyzed and prevent us from getting help or making positive improvements in our lives.


Just remember these fears are normal, and they are O.K. These fears don’t make us weak; on the contrary, we become empowered the moment we are able to see these fears for what they are. They are only thoughts. Remember, personal development begins when we identify our fears, analyze them, and proactively change our behavior as a result.


The good news is that facing your fears gets easier with time, practice, and with the help of a solid support system and a structured lifestyle. Facing your fears is not always easy but ultimately it will be one of the most rewarding decisions you make in your lifetime.


About the Author:


Joseph Cervantes is an advocate for the de-stigmatizing of addiction and for the development of progressive treatment approaches. As a writer in the addiction treatment space and former community organizer he has had the opportunity to work with hundreds of individuals struggling with various addictions and mental health issues. Having completed several IOP and inpatient programs himself over the past 20 years, he offers a unique perspective into the treatment and recovery experience through both a “patient” and “practitioner” lens.


How do I persuade a loved one to get help?

It is very difficult to watch a loved one make destructive choices for themselves, whether it is by abusing drugs and alcohol, engaging in toxic relationships, or even by not taking care of themselves. Our loved ones may or may not be open to the idea that their behavior is causing harm. Even if they are open to the idea, they may not be ready to change their behavior. Here are some suggestions on how to approach such a delicate matter:
  • Make sure you are taking care of yourself first. It does not help anyone if you are letting go of your own health and self-care because you are so preoccupied by someone else’s health. If you do, you are ultimately doing just as your loved one is doing — not taking care of oneself.
  • Ask your loved one if he/she is open to seeking help. If not, ask whether he or she would be willing to attend a consulting session with you, as the situation is really affecting you.
  • Set firm and healthy boundaries with the person. One of the best ways to bring about change in others is by changing the way we interact with them. Let’s say you are financially supporting your son and your son is using part of the money to support his drinking habit. Devise a plan where the financial support is only going towards his healthy habits.
  • Search your heart for empathy and understanding. You will need to change many of your own behaviors if you are truly interested in bringing about change in your loved one. You will find that changing your own behavior will come at a cost and will most likely be challenging, because human beings are resistant to change. Use this to help build empathy and understanding for your loved one. Imagine how difficult it must be for them to make changes. Approaching the situation with empathy and understanding could drastically impact the outcome of what you are trying to achieve.
  • Consult with a professional.

About the author: Dr. Seda Gragossian is the Clinical Director at the Talk Therapy Psychology Center in San Diego, where she helps people work through mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma, and addiction.

858 205-2490

What is the #1 addiction?

Take a guess. What do you think the most widespread addiction is? Do you think it’s alcohol, marijuana, meth, cocaine, sex, or chocolate? It is actually none of those. The most widespread addiction is the addiction to “thinking”. Yes, that’s right. Thinking is what most of us are addicted to.Do you remember the last time you had no thoughts? And by thought, I don’t mean just fearful or negative thoughts but any thought. Our mind is constantly busy thinking about anything that may appear benign to excruciatingly painful. If you stop and observe, you will see that your mind is constantly running one thought after another. Here are some categories of thoughts:
  • Planning and reviewing tasks and responsibilities, sometimes over and over. Sometimes, we are actually playing out the task in our heads as if we are performing it.
  • Going over interactions we have had with others, whether they were positive or negative, and all the things we should have, or not have said
  • Analyzing the choices that we have made in the past and all the things that we “should” have done differently
  • Predicting the future and all the things that could potentially go wrong.
  • Judging the present moment and all the things that are wrong with it, whether it has to do with the weather, people around us, what we have or don’t have, and on and on.
As you notice, we are either judging the past, judging the present, planning, or predicting the future.
No matter what thought the mind is thinking, there is no doubt that some kind of association, interpretation, or judgment is taking place. You may think that many of your thoughts are neutral but are they really? Reflect a bit on your thoughts and you will see that thoughts are not capable of being neutral. For example a thought might arise such as: “It is a sunny day.” Sounds pretty neutral, right? Not really! Think about all the associations that follow as soon as you think that thought. Think about everything that a sunny day has evolved to mean to you. If you are at work, you might be thinking “I wish I could go to the beach on a sunny day like this.” If you are at home, you might be thinking “I am not taking advantage of this sunny day.” Before you know it, one thought leads to another and you are caught up in your head.
The point of this article is to raise awareness. The incessant need for mind chatter is unhealthy and most people are not even aware of this taking place. This addictive thinking contributes to anxiety, and keeps you focused on past disfunctions and future fears. While the thinking cannot be stopped, it is best to slowly start creating peaceful times throughout your day. Here are some practices that can help:
  • Become aware that this is happening. Just by being aware that the mind is constantly analyzing the past and fearing the future, is a great start to creating some distance between where you are and what you fear.
  • Practice being present. Focusing on the present moment helps dissipate the power of the thinking mind. This can be done through mindfulness practices, like mindful walking or sitting.
  • Meditate. There are many meditation practices that can be learned and followed, Just 10 minutes a day can create a lasting benefit. During meditation, you can become aware of the thoughts as they come and go, but don’t feed them through. Pretend they are clouds going by in the sky.
  • Exercise. When doing something physically strenuous, the mind is not able to continue its thinking process. Instead, energy is diverted to carrying out a task.
  • Focus on your breathing. With eyes open or closed, focus your attention on the air going in through your nose, moving down into the body, and coming back out. This is a timeless practice that is very effective at slowing down the thinking mind.
  • Practice letting go. This can be a more advanced step than the others and, in fact, requires that you have some level of awareness and distance already created with the thinking process. When a thought arises that is problematic, such as an evaluation of something who has hurt you in the past, try letting the thought go without grasping it. Pretty soon, another thought will pop into the mind that may be less emotionally charged. It is actually easier to practice letting go with simple things. For instance, you are waiting for a parking spot at a busy store and someone comes and gets the available spot that you were in line for. That’s a simple matter. Let that thought go. Practice enough with the little stuff so that when you are dealing with a traumatic situation, you have some experience with what letting go feels like.
Over time, by introducing simple methods into your day, and doing so consistently, you will start to see some distance between who you are and the contents of your thought stream. In a sense, if thinking is an addiction, consider this a practice in moderation.
About the author: Dr. Seda Gragossian is the Clinical Director at the Talk Therapy Psychology Center in San Diego, where she helps people work through mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction, and many others.
858 205-2490

Finding peace when addicted

At times, Talk Therapy Psychology Center hosts articles and important announcements from our partners and clients. Here is a meaningful post from one of our regular contributors, Joe Cervantes:

Finding Peace When We are Addicted

If you are dealing with an active addiction you know how difficult it is to find inner peace. It’s difficult to tap into that peaceful place — the calmness, serenity, stillness, acceptance, and reassurance — when the dark cloud of addiction follows you everywhere you go.

You find yourself consumed by the negative emotions and physical pains synonymous with your addiction. Your behaviors are shrouded in regret, shame, guilt, anxiety, depression, body aches, and other negative feelings.

How do you find peace within yourself when you are knee deep in the fallout of your own non-productive behaviors? Is peace even possible when you constantly feel like you are living on shaky ground? Perhaps even a more important question: Do you even deserve to feel any peace at all?

Finding peace within ourselves during our active addiction is not only possible but it is an essential first step in facing our addiction head on. Popular wisdom tells us that we must get completely clean and sober before we stand a chance of experiencing any level of inner peace. This notion is absolutely backwards.

Seeking inner peace, not just sobriety, should be your top priority if you are looking for a long term solution to your addiction. Yes, it’s true inner peace will become exponentially easier to achieve the longer you remain clean and sober. But you can begin to incorporate life principles right now that will help you tap into your well of inner peace for a lifetime to come.

Six Steps to More Inner Peace

Regardless of how bad your hangover is today here are six steps you can begin taking right at this moment toward an increased sense of inner peace. If you consciously incorporate these feel good activities into each day over the next month you will eventually find yourself relying more on these principles for overall well being and less on your addiction.

  1. Gratitude – Although finding the good in life can be challenging, gratitude is a direct channel to inner peace. Regularly focusing on the things you are grateful for actually releases endorphins and over time changes your physiology to a more peaceful state.
  2. Self Forgiveness – Reminding yourself that you are human and are bound to make mistakes, and not beating yourself up, will result in a more peaceful mindset. This is easier said than done but consistently forgiving yourself for your mistakes and imperfections should be a daily priority.
  3. Living in the Moment – Depression occurs when we have regrets about the past and anxiety occurs when we worry about the future. Sage wisdom throughout the ages reminds us that the present moment is the most likely place we will discover inner peace.
  4. Routine – Peace can be discovered through familiarity. Even if you make poor choices on occasion and fall off track, maintaining a consistent, productive daily routine will lower your stress and help you deal with the problems that led you into your addiction.
  5. Identifying with Others – There is peace to be found in knowing that others are dealing with the same issues as you are. Recovery support groups are full of people in active addiction who are finding inner peace by connecting with and relating to others.
  6. Move Around – Changing your physiology can bring you a sense of immediate peace. Getting the blood flowing and exercising for even just a few minutes will release stress reducing hormones and endorphins. Take a brisk walk around the block for an immediate shot of inner peace.

Begin looking for opportunities to incorporate these practices into each day beginning today. Write them down. Focus on them. Do them. And before long you will begin to discover the glimpses of inner peace that your addiction has separated you from for so long. No matter what mistakes you made yesterday, peace is right here in front of you in this very moment for the taking. And remember, most importantly, you deserve it!

About the Author:

Joseph Cervantes is an advocate for the de-stigmatizing of addiction and for the development of progressive treatment approaches. As a writer in the addiction treatment space and former community organizer he has had the opportunity to work with hundreds of individuals struggling with various addictions and mental health issues. Having completed several IOP and inpatient programs himself over the past 20 years, he offers a unique perspective into the treatment and recovery experience through both a “patient” and “practitioner” lens.


Addiction and the desire to change

At times, Talk Therapy invites our friends and colleagues from the community to share their thoughts. Here is an informative post from one of our guest writer:

Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes

A popular saying in the recovery community is “nothing changes if nothing changes,” meaning, we need to make deliberate changes in our life if we want to beat our addiction. But what kind of change is needed and how much?

This was the most common question people would ask in the online recovery community that I used to manage. New visitors to the community knew something was not right with their life. They knew they needed to reach out for help, and they did. But like so many others battling with addiction they had no idea what change would be necessary or how much.

Of course the answer is different for every single person depending on the severity of their addiction, their willingness to change, and perhaps most importantly, what approaches align most with their personality and lifestyle. But the bottom line is true for everyone challenged by addiction. If you want to change this unwanted behavior it is going to require some work. Maybe a little, maybe a lot.

It may or may not require you to do one or more of the following:

  • Make a decision to change and simply stick to it
  • Attend a support meeting one or more times a week
  • See a counselor once a week
  • Begin an exercise routine
  • Change your diet
  • Start meditating
  • Work through a 12-step program
  • Go to yoga classes
  • Work with a hypnotherapist
  • Make amends with family and friends
  • Stop hanging out with certain friends or family
  • Get a new job
  • Move to a new city
  • Stop going to certain restaurants
  • See a doctor
  • Set boundaries
  • Develop a budget
  • Create a daily routine
  • Research recovery strategies
  • Sell the car you can’t afford
  • Leave a negative partner or spouse
  • Become educated about addiction
  • Support others in their recovery
  • Sleep less (or more)
  • Do a personal inventory
  • Volunteer
  • Go to an outpatient treatment facility
  • Go to a residential rehab center

If only the first one (make a decision to change and stick to it) were that simple and we didn’t need any of the other methods to change our behavior. Some people can simply make the decision to quit, wipe their hands clean, and go on with their life. But for millions of others who become ensnared in the grip of addiction, it is necessary to do more than just decide. We must develop strategies, routines and systems for managing our addiction on a daily basis. For many of us this is a full time job that we’ll have for the rest of our lives.

This process of developing a recovery plan is different for everyone, and there are probably hundreds more strategies that can be added to the list above. Sure, the road to recovery is not easy, but it can be tremendously rewarding and have a positive ripple effect on other areas of your life. Changing one behavior results in the determination to change other behaviors. Some of the people I’ve met who have been successful in overcoming their addiction are also the most healthy, productive, motivated and successful people that I’ve ever met.

 A good place to begin the work is by taking an honest, and maybe even uncomfortable inventory of our lives. In this process we analyze our daily routine and habits, our relationships with family and friends, our health and dietary habits, our exercise regimen, our mental well-being, our environment, our activities, our goals in life, etc.. We get brutally honest with ourselves about each of these areas and we commit to doing whatever it takes to change our behavior (even if it means contorting our bodies into unnatural positions at the neighborhood yoga studio).

In the online recovery community one thing was crystal clear week after week and month after month. The members who were taking actionable steps toward change on a consistent basis were clearly enjoying their lives much more than those merely complaining about the same old problems day in and day out. The ones who weren’t willing to hit up meetings, change their routine, dump that negative partner, etc. were the ones still drinking and using. The ones diligently working a recovery plan were the ones reporting 30, 60, 90 days, etc. of sober time, not to mention they were exhilarated and hopeful.

If you’re dealing with an addiction and have a desire to change your life this is a great time to make a commitment to doing the necessary work and begin creating a plan for your recovery. Understand that it may not be easy but it could possibly be one of the most rewarding things you ever do in your life. And remember, nothing changes if nothing changes.

About the Author:

Joseph Cervantes is an advocate for the de-stigmatization of addiction in our culture. As a community organizer and journalist in the addiction treatment space he has had the opportunity to work with hundreds of individuals struggling with various addictions and mental health issues. He is also a vocal advocate for the development of new methods and strategies for treating addiction. Having completed several IOP and inpatient programs himself over the past 20 years, he offers a unique perspective into the rehab experience through both a patient and practitioner lens.



What is anxiety and how do you manage it?

Anxiety is the fear of the unknown — the unpredictable future. It’s the fear that bad things will happen to me, affecting my health, my family, my finances, and so on. Most of our fears are irrational and baseless and do not ever come to fruition. Often times, we admit “I know my fear is irrational but I don’t seem to be able to brush it off.” It starts by a physical sensation like a knot in the stomach, heart palpation, or sweaty hands. You might even experience panic attacks, which feel like you are going to die. The mind finds one worrying thought or another to associate with the physical sensation. The mind and the body enter a feedback loop where they work together to maintain this hyper-alert state. Sounds familiar?

The mind is very convincing and, like an experienced sales person, will not give up until you buy into the fear. If the mind could speak as a separate entity, it would say: “This situation is a real threat; you really need to worry about this one.” When that situation passes or nothing comes of it, the mind jumps to the next situation and repeats the same sales pitch. It really does not matter what the situation is or if there even is a situation, the mind will find it or create it. Can you relate? Of course! We all can, because we all have a mind and that is how the mind operates.

So, what is the way out? Many techniques have been developed to help us manage anxiety, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which teaches us how to challenge and dispute our irrational thoughts. Such tools can be very helpful for working through a specific thought stream. However, they do not work as well for generalized anxiety because, with generalized anxiety, the mind jumps from one worry to another. Also, it becomes tiring since as soon as you work through one fear, another fear takes it’s place. What is required is a qualitative change to how the mind operates rather than an attempt to deal with each thought as it arises.

How do you qualitatively change the mind? How do you build a mind that does not allow thoughts to stick and replay over and over? It takes practice but this is achievable. Follow these two steps daily and you will be amazed by the results. The key is to practice daily and not break the chain. Retraining the mind will require effort, commitment, and believing in the possibility.

Start with a breathing exercise that grounds you and clears your energy. Breathing exercises on their own, lower anxiety, as they reduce the tension and physical symptoms associated with anxiety. Here is a link to a YouTube video by Lama Surya Das that teaches how to practice breathing:

Breathing Exercise

Meditate. Once the body is grounded, it is much easier to meditate. There are many ideas and theories about meditation. Use meditation to gain clarity. Remove all distractions, sit comfortably, close your eyes if it helps, and focus on your breathing. Slow down your breathing as much as possible to help slow down your body and mind. Your mind will come up with thoughts and that is perfectly ok because that is what the mind does — produces thoughts. Be mindful of not entertaining these thoughts; let them come and go as if they are floating clouds in the sky. You can even say “It is just a thought.” That is really what it is: just a thought. You might find yourself mingling with a thought. Catch yourself and bring your attention back to your breathing and your body. Some people like to count their breath as a way to maintain focus on breathing. Utilize what works for you.

Meditation is a powerful practice to detach from thoughts, thinking, and worrying. As you practice breathing and meditation regularly, you will realize that it becomes easier and easier to remain aware of thoughts and not have to indulge in each and every one. You will realize that, throughout the day, even when you are not meditating, you will have a different level of clarity and will not be a victim to dysfunctional thinking. You will find a level of freedom that you never thought would be possible. Give it a try and let me know how this works out for you.
Author: Seda Gragossian, PhD
Clinical Director
Talk Therapy Psychology Center