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Academy of Hope, Stedman Graham, and Joe Polish’s Genius Network

After surviving rock bottom, Andre Norman founded “The Academy of Hope” with the goal to diminish violence in prisons. Contributors include Stedman Graham, Joe Polish (founder of Genius Recovery Foundation) and The Genius Network®.

Andre Norman overcame poverty, gangs, and prison to become an International Speaker and Harvard Fellow. Having survived rock bottom, Andre knew he could help others do the same. Andre’s pledge has been, and continues to be, to help anyone in need. He saves people’s lives.

One of the ways he’s done this is by founding “The Academy of Hope.” The goal of the Academy of Hope is to diminish violence inside prisons. One of the contributors to The Academy of Hope is Stedman Graham. Stedman speaks to inmates about finding their purpose no matter where they are. Founder of Genius Recovery Foundation, Inc., Joe Polish, is also Founder of Genius Network®. Genius Network and its Members’ have donated books and other educational materials and through the Genius Recovery Foundation, made available to Andre’s program to help better the men and women in prison populations of America.

Joe Polish, Stedman Graham, and Andre Norman are healthy role models of transformation and service. They are helping develop a positive trajectory for people’s future.

Nelson Mandela was locked up for 27 years and became president of his country when he came out. We have to be able to give individuals who are incarcerated information that allows them to grow and develop, and build and create a positive future. That is what The Academy of Hope is all about.

Joe Polish teaches, “We cannot punish the pain out of people.” We cannot torture people into a better life. We have to speak them with respect and kindness and help them understand how to have a greater goal. In prison, they have the time to read, study, and learn. And after they pay their debt to society, they have the opportunity to become productive citizens utilizing their own talents, skills, abilities, passions, and purpose.

A form of addiction recovery and rehabilitation with efficacy is personal development, and self-education. If we can raise our consciousness and understand that there’s a bigger world out there… we can have a bigger vision, we can plan, set goals, organize a process to empower ourselves and focus on the positive. We can absolutely change our direction and develop a different trajectory for our future.

America’s prison population is a 2.2 million person problem and a multi billion dollar problem. Stedman, Andre, and Joe are getting stuff done and contributing to a better society. Your contribution can help propel the mission.

Meet the Man Who’s Stronger Than Drugs

Though we all go through plenty of highs and lows in life, few people have seen the extreme ends of the spectrum as clearly as Willie ‘The Bam’ Johnson. For anybody who is a fan of martial arts, Johnson is something of a legend. He’s the first American in history to win be a nationally-ranked, Triple Crown martial arts champion and holds fifth- and seventh-degree black belts in karate and kung fu, respectively. Beyond that, he’s also trained in jujitsu, Thai boxing, wrestling, kickboxing and Tai Chi. To top it all off, he achieved the rank of Grand Master in 1995 and has been inducted into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame.

Still, nobody is more in awe of his ascendancy than Johnson himself. “As a six-year-old kid growing up in the city of Baltimore in a community called Lafayette Projects,” Johnson says, “there were a lot of things going on in my household.” Beyond the general struggle of growing up in a poor, hard-working family, there were also significant family dysfunctions. “I was being molested and [experiencing] things that made me feel so less-than by other family members.”

The first germ of change happened only by accident. “There was this one moment where my mom had allowed me to go to this movie called Chinese Connection with a neighbor,” Johnson says. “I went there and I got a chance to see Bruce Lee. And I didn’t see Bruce Lee, I saw me. I saw an opportunity and I found a way to get through the pain I was going through.” From that day forward, there was virtually never a moment when Johnson wasn’t honing his martial arts skills.

Although he had all the enthusiasm, finding ways to practice was somewhat challenging. “In that time, there weren’t that many schools or people who were doing martial arts,” Johnson says. “You would have to find somebody who learned it in the military or a guy who was teaching privately. I found a guy who was teaching privately and he began to help me along.” Before long, Johnson was learning privately, sitting in on classes with the permission of instructors and honing his craft. Slowly but surely, he took things to the next level.

“As I got a little older, around 10,” he says, “My sister moved out and I made my own dojo in my apartment.” He started having kids in the neighborhood over to teach them privately until a few years later, one of his younger students suggested they try offering the class in a local community center. “I went over there, the first thing the guy told me was, ‘What are you talking about?'” Johnson says. “‘You’re only 12 years old, you can’t teach no class.'”

After that, Johnson and his troupe of kids went outside to practice in the field—where they were spotted by Kenneth Parker, a counselor at the community center. As it turns out, Parker was so impressed that he talked the owner into letting him lead a martial arts class at the center for the kids. “[Parker] was already a black belt in karate, did yoga, was into holistic health,” Johnson says. “He became a mentor and kept reinforcing my creativity.”

By the time he was 17, Johnson had competed in (and won) tournaments. By the time he was 18, he had his own martial arts school in Baltimore. As the 80s rolled in, Johnson’s star was on the rise—right as crack cocaine and heroin were flooding the city streets. “I started really being recognized in magazines,” he says. “All those dreams I had as a kid were now manifesting. But because of the influx of crack cocaine and heroin, all of my friends were becoming big-time drug dealers.”

The neighborhood Johnson remembered as a kid was eroding, replaced with gun fights and drug dealers. It culminated when Johnson saw his best friend get shot up outside his home. “Friends were hurting friends, family was hurting family,” Johnson says. “That’s when my addiction really took off.” Though it included drug use, the issue was more complex than that. “I was addicted to carrying guns, selling drugs, using drugs,” he says. “I never put a needle in my arm but [I] was addicted to a lifestyle.”

At home, Johnson’s mom was struggling with cancer. In his world, he had scored his first official cover shoot for a martial arts magazine. His plan was to go to the shoot and then go out partying—but he missed the bus. Instead of shooting for the magazine, he went home to see his mother, who was particularly ill. “My mom died in my arms [that night],” he says. “Her last words were, ‘Be good, Bam Bam.’”

Things got worse after that. “When she died, I was on the path to suicide,” he says. “I was smoking everything, taking everything. I ended up homeless. I was eating out of trash cans.” It wasn’t long after that Johnson found himself serving a year-long sentence in federal prison. “When I got locked up, I had crack cocaine in my pocket after they searched me,” he says. “After all that happened, I thought, ‘I could take this crack and go crazy, or I can flush it down the toilet and ask God to give me a chance.’” He chose the latter.

Johnson started working with a drug counselor in prison and working a 12-step program. He came up with the idea for Stronger than Drugs, a program to keep Baltimore kids ages four to 17-years-old off of drugs. Despite all his success and personal achievements, his sponsor doled out some hard lessons to Johnson. “I had five kids,” Johnson says. “My sponsor would say to me, ‘Don’t come in here like you’re all clean and sober when you still have an alcoholic’s behavior. When you go home, you gotta respect women. And secondly, go get your kids and raise your kids. Pay off your child support and stop talking like you’re some gangster on the streets. When you do all that, I’m impressed.’”

When he got out of jail, Johnson made good on his promise. “I still do everything I did in jail to this day,” he says—that means practicing martial arts, trying to guide the youth away from drugs and crime and relentlessly pursuing self-development. Aside from teaching students, Stronger than Drugs remains one of Johnson’s biggest projects. “Our ultimate goal is to educate the kids,” he says. “How do we educate them so they don’t have to come in a room and say, ‘Hey, my name is Johnny and I’m an alcoholic.’” Just as every great journey begins with a single step, Johnson’s philosophy behind his recovery and his success is as simple as can be. “In the martial arts, we say that a black belt is just a white belt that never quits,” he says. “And that’s what AA is. We’re just beginners who never quit.”

Addiction Once Ran Charlie Engle’s Life. Now He Outruns It—and Everything Else

For most of us, running a marathon is a nearly insurmountable challenge. A marathon, after all, is 26 miles long and can involve temporarily shrinking half an inch due to lack of water, sustaining short-term kidney damage and wobbling over the finish line. Though a marathon might be a big enough challenge for most people, it isn’t enough for Charlie Engle. Engle is an ultramarathon runner and as such, he’s no stranger to completing staggering physical challenges. What doesn’t get mentioned as much, however, is that some of Engle’s most grueling challenges have been mental and spiritual—namely, getting sober and maintaining his peace and purpose.

Before that, it’s worth running through (forgive me) some of the incredible things Engle has accomplished thus far. Before he got sober, he ran the Big Sur marathon and the Boston Marathon. He entered his first ultramarathon in 1996 in Brisbane, Australia by accident, thinking it was shorter—and ended up winning the men’s division anyway. He ran more events after that, including the Borneo Eco-Challenge, a 12-day adventure race where runners trek 320 miles and some change through the jungles of Borneo. Finally, Engle ran for 111 days straight all the way across the Sahara desert. That’s 4,300 miles. To put that in perspective, that’s about 38 miles a day—in other words, a marathon in the morning, a lunch break and a second marathon in the afternoon for 111 days straight.

He even wrote his own memoir, Running Man, detailing his life and experiences (and in typical Engle fashion, he overdid it: “I wrote 800 pages for my 300-page book”). Although Engle has been written about ad infinitum, the hardest part about his story is explaining where his Herculean drive comes from. To hear him tell it, it actually has a lot to do with childhood and addiction. “Like with most addicts, it’s complicated,” he says. “When I was a kid, I distinctly remember that I had this very bohemian upbringing. I liked to call myself ‘lovingly neglected.’ My mom was 18 years old and a theater major, so I was around a lot of adults.”

While Engle remembers his childhood warmly, the environment he lived in did expose him to alcohol and drugs like marijuana at an early age. “Regularly in my house, there was not a lot to eat or drink,” he says. “It was like living in a college dorm room almost. When I was about 10 years old, I woke up at two in the morning and there was nothing in the fridge. So I walked back through and grabbed a beer sitting on the table and I drank it. And I liked it. I liked it immediately.”

Even though that formative beer didn’t immediately lead Engle into the lifestyle of addiction, he says that it definitely planted a seed that grew in his college years. Though he was active in sports and involved in extracurriculars in high school, college was a wake-up call. “I went to UNC Chapel Hill and I think I expected there to be a ‘Welcome, Charlie’ banner on my dorm,” he says with a laugh. “What I found out very quickly was that I was actually pretty average.” Like any young adult whose self-image was in jeopardy, Engle looked for another thing to excel at—and found it almost immediately. “What I discovered by accident is that I was an All-American, first-team drinker. I could drink more than anybody else around,” he says. “It’s not the identity that one looks for, but that sort of became my identity in college.”

Drinking quickly escalated to harder drugs, all of which cost Engle a lot of time. “I did cocaine, I dealt cocaine,” Engle says. “The first time I tried it I didn’t feel a thing. Then the second time, everything changed. Everything was clearer and I had big plans and I was going to do all the things the person says they’re going to do when they’re on coke. And I spent the next 10 years after that night chasing that first high.” Engle’s rock bottom happened in Wichita, Kansas in 1992. He was on a cocaine binge and at the end of it, his car was shot at with a hail of bullets. He attended AA that same day and started on the path to sobriety.

It was in sobriety that the true self-discovery began. “Once I got sober, the mission for me was to pound the addict out of me,” Engle says. “If I could’ve taken a scalpel and cut the addict out of me, I would’ve done that. And it took me three years to realize that the addict was all the best parts of me. It wasn’t the part of me I needed to get rid of, it was the part of me I needed to nurture and point towards the things I really wanted to do.”

Although Engle adheres to a 12-step recovery program, he says that extreme physical exertion (put more bluntly: physical suffering) was a kind of spiritual key to unlocking the treasure of his potential. “The other ways to cause yourself pain are [an unhealthy] physical relationship, a lousy job,” he says. “Those are long-term commitments that are hard to untangle. If I go race a 100-miler, I actually know that 100 miles is going to end one way or another. I want to get to a place during that 100-miler that I desperately want to quit. That’s actually why I’m there, to get that feeling and then push past that.”

In fitting with that spirit, Engle’s newest adventure is the 5.8 Expedition, an ambitious undertaking which plans to have Engle race from the points of lowest to highest altitude on all seven continents. The crown jewel of the project is to be a trek from the Dead Sea in Jordan to the top of Mount Everest—but there are other races to complete first. “Phase one of 5.8 is going to happen in June,” he says. “It’s going to be in Africa, so from the lowest place to the top of Kilimanjaro.” Although many of us might tremble in the face of such a challenge, Engle couldn’t be more excited. “The point is that all of us live within this tiny 5.8 miles of atmosphere that surrounds the planet,” he says. “I think it’s a metaphor for life. We’re all in this together. Running in Africa or South America or Badwater, those are the payoffs for being sober. I get to do things like that. I get to go suffer in those places.”

Engle’s many high-profile races also have environmental and humanitarian projects attached as well, and 5.8 is no different. Though the project will undoubtedly inspire others, spread awareness and raise money for Engle’s newest environmental non-profit We Are One Village, the core motivation is still selfish, in a sense. “I’ve come to the deep understanding that service is incredibly selfish,” he says with a laugh. “Hard physical suffering, if I could put a picture to it, is like taking a firehose and cleaning out my insides to replace it with something better. I can’t find another way to have that sort of replenishment.”

Eating Dessert on a Full Stomach Helped Me Beat My Sugar Addiction

Like many folks with drinking problems, my first addiction was sugar. I actually recall the horror of losing my grip on a Cookies and Cream ice cream cone when I was three years old at Baskin Robbins. I was devastated, watching that perfectly good scoop of fresh ice cream hit the ground and turn into a goopy mess on the floor. I also recall hiding in the closet every Halloween so I could polish off my plastic pumpkin full of bite-sized Snickers, Three Musketeers and Mars Bars. My parents always warned me that I’d get sick if I ate too much candy, but that just never happened. To this day, my tolerance for sugar is about 10 times that of the average person.

Though I’ve managed to shelve the alcohol and the cigarettes, the sugar problem persists to this day. I’ve tried quitting altogether, but no matter how many times I hit an OA meeting, I just can’t give it up. Apparently, I’m not alone; a former AA sponsor who managed to rack up 30+ years of both sobriety and smobriety couldn’t quit the sugar either. She tried over and over and over, but she just couldn’t resist her cravings for Sees Candies suckers.

I’m sure one of the main reasons I can’t call it quits with sugar is that it never destroyed my life like alcohol. Sure, I sometimes have bad sugar hangovers, but thankfully the problem isn’t so bad that I binge on the stuff day after day after day. If I do have a sugar coma, it’s just a few days out of the month. I wish I could have iron self-control, like so many people you run into at 12-step meetings in LA who don’t consume caffeine or sugar or dairy or gluten or fructose or anything made from animals, but I’m just not willing to exert any more energy in quitting anything. Is it really that bad if I overdo it on Oreos?

Still, sugar is pretty gnarly, and gaining weight from stuffing my face with doughnuts all day is the least of my concerns. Though I wouldn’t be happy about going up a size or two, my main worry is that weight gain can bring on diabetes and insulin resistance. Diabetes in itself is bad enough, but the disease may trigger early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s. No thank you. Then there’s the horrifying effect sugar has on my brain today; it messes with both my focus and my mood, and at times it can even trigger bouts of rage.

About a year ago, I made the mistake of scarfing down a box of Oreos with milk before bed and on a relatively empty stomach, and when I woke up in the morning I was convinced, for no reason whatsoever, that my boyfriend didn’t love me or pay enough attention to me. So, I proceeded to call him to tell him so, and when he didn’t pick up, I called multiple times, something I never do, until he finally picked up.

He answered with a quizzical “Are you okay?” With my body in a state of mild convulsion, I realized that no, I was not okay. I was in the midst of a sugar withdrawal only slightly less acute than the withdrawals I experienced from alcohol. What’s worse is that this ended up happening a second time, about a month later. Sugar, apparently, had the power to make me certifiably insane.

After these horrible occurrences and two tearful apologies to my boyfriend, I decided I really needed to take the sugar addiction seriously. But I’d already tried to quit so many times, and I just didn’t want to go through the agony of withdrawal only to give in again.

Then I remembered that a few weeks earlier I was out at a nice meal and ordered some blueberry beignets with vanilla ice cream on a full stomach, and I didn’t even finish them! The irresistible craving that I typically develop when eating something sweet on an empty stomach just didn’t surface. The same thing happened with alcohol; I rarely got blitzed while drinking at dinner, and even if I had a lot to drink usually just got sleepy and went to bed. Since I didn’t need to shovel down five beignets, I didn’t suffer from a sugar hangover or blood sugar imbalance.

Upon remembering this, I made a rule with myself that I wouldn’t have sugar unless it was on a full stomach. I’d let myself eat an entire package of Oreos if I wanted, as long as I’d already scarfed down plenty of protein and fiber.

The rule seems to be working.

Right now I’m in Armenia, my mother country, and this place has more Oreos than any other country outside of the US, so I’m beginning to believe my sugar addiction is genetic. You can find white chocolate and milk chocolate-covered Oreos, Brownie Oreos, Oreo Thins, and they even sell Oreos by the kilo.

I don’t resist buying these. Instead, I just cook up some chicken with eggplant, or eat some yogurt and lavash, and top it all off with olives and then chase whatever I just ate down with water and wait a good 20 minutes before allowing myself to eat the cookies. By the time all that food registers to my brain, I just don’t have the physiological desire to stuff my face with the cookies. I’ll end up eating maybe four or five of them (it’s a lot for some folks, but that’s nothing for me), and then putting the box away.

As a result, I don’t wake up out of my mind and in a rage at the world, and I don’t get all shaky and cracked-out and suffer from an inability to focus. For now, it’s a doable, harm-reductive approach that will hopefully help me stave off early-onset dementia, diabetes, and even an expanding waistline as I grow old.

Where Do Breathwork and Storytelling Meet? At Narrative Breathwork, Of Course

Most of us have had the experience of cleaning out a closet, opening a dusty box and uncovering some old writing we forgot about. The standard protocol in those situations is to allow ourselves a moment of nostalgia and embarrassment before stashing the offending childhood artifact away as securely as possible. But that’s not what Dave Nadelberg did when he found one of his own wide-eyed childhood love letters. “I found this letter in a cardboard box,” he says. “I shared [it] with my then roommates and they really got a kick out of it. And I was like, ‘This is really fun. There’s something to this.’”

Initially, Nadelberg thought the idea had potential as a one-night-only stage show—maybe a performance where people would read similar unrequited love letters (initially to be called Crush Night). The idea kept gestating until a chance encounter with a friend. “A coworker told me that she had found her diary,” he says. “She was telling me how she was mortified by what she’d found. And then it clicked.” With the language now firmly in place, Mortified was born.

Today, Mortified is a world-wide storytelling phenomenon that has been covered by virtually every major media outlet. “We’ve produced a stage show in 20 cities around the world,” Nadelberg says. “We have a podcast with nearly 200 episodes, we have a public radio special, multiple TV projects, a documentary, three books and a guided journal.” In the 16 years since it started, Mortified has evolved from a simple stage show to a uniquely funny (and therapeutic) storytelling brand.

As it turns out, though, Nadelberg’s storytelling talents have also been flowing into a new direction for the past four to five years. Once again, it all started with a chance encounter.

A friend gave Nadelberg some tickets to a holistic workshop that included yoga and something called breathwork, an activity he initially intended to skip. “When that portion of the day rolled around, I wound up participating,” he says. “And it was like Keanu Reeves coming out of the Matrix for the first time saying, ‘Woah, I know kung-fu.’ I found it to be transformative. It was completely life-changing.”

For the unfamiliar, breathwork is the practice of controlling one’s breathing for any number of holistic, relaxation-oriented and spiritually-motivated ends. Despite its simplicity, breathwork is also notoriously tough to define. “Breathwork is a horribly marketed, terribly branded, generic term that is a catch-all for multiple different things,” Nadelberg says. “I find that the meditation and yoga community takes itself way too seriously to the point where a lot of instructors turn me off,” he says. “They portray this caricature of what I think they believe a mindful, spiritual person is supposed to sound like.”

As with the genesis of Mortified, Nadelberg’s breathwork experiences led him to a new inspiration. “I saw there was an opportunity to give people an alternative,” he says. “I wanted to create something that felt more human.” The result was what he calls Narrative Breathwork, a new approach that he offers to clients in personal and group workshops. “My approach is to use elements of storytelling and personal reflection and memoir to enhance the breathwork experience,” he says. “I come at this not from the holistic community, I come at it from the storytelling world. And interestingly, I find that to be a more holistic lens than many of my experiences in the meditation world.”

Though his workshops still offer the traditional controlled breathing techniques, they also draw upon lessons and inspirations culled from his experiences with Mortified. “I’m all about guiding people through a story of their life,” he says. “I help my participants gently tell a story about their lives in their head while they’re going through the experience. We talk at the beginning about childhood memories, the fun ones, the not so fun ones. Whatever gets their mind and their heart going.” By combining the techniques, Nadelberg’s hope is that clients get both the mental benefits of positively reframing their life story along with the physical and spiritual benefits of breathwork. “I find that [my clients] wind up having a far more connected experience emotionally,” Nadelberg says. “And I like throwing in jokes—if you can make someone laugh during a breathwork experience, that can be good.”

While this lighter-hearted, down-to-earth approach to breathwork is not entirely common yet, it makes intuitive sense to Nadelberg. “I got into Mortified thinking I was doing it because I was looking to entertain people,” he says. “But when I got honest with myself and looked into it, a huge part of it comes from my own experiences with mental health struggles. I had a really rough time in my mid-20s.” Nadelberg’s struggles even included a brief hospitalization, an experience he says he’s never forgotten. “That was [very unpleasant],” he says with a laugh. “What drives me to do this goofy comedy show are very serious, human needs. And those are being carried over, for sure, into my work with Narrative Breathwork.” As with Mortified, Nadelberg is quick to qualify that Narrative Breathwork is not supposed to be a replacement for any kind of professional medical or psychiatric help his clients might need. “It’s not therapy,” he says. “It’s therapeutic.”

Just as there was no clear model for Mortified’s growth, there’s also no established path for Nadelberg’s Narrative Breathwork workshops. “Sometimes the best game plan, although it’s a very anxiety-inducing one, is: be guided by what feels nourishing,” he says. “And that’s a little different than be guided by what feels good.” Still, it’s easy for him to get philosophical about the journey. “In live comedy, audience laughter is about how we control our breath,” he says. “When we cry, we can’t catch our breath. When we fall in love, somebody takes our breath away. The breath is this thing that’s with us in all aspects of life, it’s a tool of our life. I’d like to examine that tool more and I want to help other people do that too.”

An Entrepreneur in Recovery Who’s Determined to Connect the Two

As anyone with any proximity to addiction knows, the recovery world is rife with colorful life stories. Still, addiction entrepreneur Alex Shohet’s is unusually rich. “I’ve had a long and complicated career,” he says. “I probably have a story that’s out of some kind of crime novel.” Shohet’s most recent venture is The Red Door, a luxe sober living home founded in 2018 that offers recovery support while also serving as an incubator space for its members’ business ventures, creative projects and start-up ideas.

If that marriage seems counter-intuitive, that’s because it is—and Shohet understands that. “We always call it the experiment,” he says. “There’s a linear approach to recovery which is to get clean and sober and then when you’re healthy enough, go back and start working. What we’re trying to say is, ‘Well, it’s not actually linear.’” For Shohet, The Red Door represents a point on his own business and recovery trajectory some 34 years removed from where it all started. To understand it in context, it’s best to go back to the beginning.

As a young man, Shohet attended UCLA but was battling addiction at the time. “I became a heroin and cocaine user,” he says. “I never graduated. I was going in and out of treatment and in and out of whatever else.” This rocky period of Shohet’s life led to him dropping out of college and attending an inpatient program at Impact Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center in Pasadena. “I stayed there for six months and then did about 12 months of outpatient,” he says.

In 1988, Shohet left Impact with newfound sobriety. But he also had a series of unpleasant realizations after getting back into the real world. “When I was in Impact, there was a period of time where you’re supposed to go out and get a job,” he says. “The challenge with that is: what do you put on your resume? I was doing petty crimes, I was a heroin and cocaine drug addict, I’d spent six months in a treatment center for people coming out of prison. Was I supposed to write all that?”

The common wisdom of 12-Step oriented programs is that recovering addicts ought to pursue a life of rigorous honesty and authenticity. Unfortunately, Shohet found it difficult to be both rigorously honest and gainfully employed. “I’m not saying I encourage this,” he says, “but faced with the opportunity of not having work, I lied on my resume.” Shortly thereafter, Shohet found employment working with personal computers (on the strength of his uncompleted engineering degree from UCLA). Fortunately, luckier times were ahead.

With the guidance of a friend and mentor, Shohet started his own computer company and found success during the dot-com boom of the 90s. In 2000, Shohet’s sponsor died of AIDS and his best friend died from relapse complications. On top of that, his wife became pregnant right as her brother passed away. Combined with the burst of the dot-com bubble, the stress led to Shohet relapsing and finding himself in rehab once again at Beit T’Shuvah. “I went [to rehab] the first time as basically a homeless person,” Shohet says. “When I went in the second time, I went in as a yuppie.”

Though his position had changed, he noticed the same problem as before: recovering addicts were finding it nearly impossible to reintegrate into the labor force. After researching the problem more on his own, Shohet embarked on new business ventures. The first was Wonderland, a high-end treatment center in the Hollywood Hills which has since closed amidst legal disputes with his then-business partner, Dr. Howard Samuels. Shohet then split off to found ONE80Center, which also closed amidst legal troubles related to two wrongful death suits. After years of legal battles, Shohet found himself back at square one. “After the litigation was over,” he says, “I went back and started saying, ‘Well, one thing I thought was a missing element in previous versions of treatment was entrepreneurship.’”

Through all his experiences in the Wild West of the high-end California rehab industry, Shohet says he always remained focused on his social mission. “I feel like what we do [at The Red Door] is standing on the back of all the other programs that have existed before us,” he says. “In the 80s, the places with work components were Salvation Army, Delancey Street, Impact. The thing about it was that most of the kinds of employment available were blue-collar work. But there was a big part of the population left out of that.”

Historically speaking, it’s no secret that jobs within the recovery industry are some of the best jobs available to recovering addicts. Still, those jobs represent a very narrow slice of the entire labor market. “Maybe we can expand on the blue-collar work and become more relevant or more current,” he says. “People can come out of these programs and feel like they can compete and succeed.”

Despite the entrepreneurial aspect, The Red Door still has all the rigor of any other sober living home. The house has five bedrooms and five-and-a-half bathrooms and equips clients with their own customized recovery teams of therapists, psychiatrists and other treatment professionals. Above all, Shohet is hoping to change the way addiction is treated and to break down the stereotypes society has about people in recovery.

“Many addicts have an incredible amount of drive,” Shohet says. “When it’s harnessed towards their addictions, it’s very destructive. But that drive can be harnessed or directed into other things.” Speaking personally, Shohet says that his entrepreneurial journey and recovery are more or less inseparable—and he hopes the Red Door can impart that wisdom onto others like himself. “I’m passionately interested in creating things and building things and learning everything I can about business,” he says. “But I’m also an addict.”

What Is Qi and How Can You Get More of It?

Why is it that some of us get noticed in life, and others get left behind? Why is that some have greater challenges when it comes to success or happiness? Could it be that the energetic vibration that surrounds us, or draws others to us, is part of the equation for success in our lives?

Qi (life force or vital energy) is an electromagnetic vibration which circulates in and around all of us.

Look around you.

Notice your environment.

How does it make you feel? Everything carries with it its own energetic, vibrational force field called Qi. Notice how you feel when you are in the mountains or by the sea, looking up at the blue or gray skies and smelling the air that circulates around you. After spending time outside in nature, most of us feel charged, lifted, connected, and changed. This feeling of harmony is from the energy your body has absorbed.

How about when you walk into a nice home or restaurant? Don’t you notice it makes you feel good? Compare that feeling to walking into a dark, dingy, dirty establishment; most of us can’t wait to leave; it has a weird vibration, an “ick” factor. We have all felt this “ick” factor and are relieved to be away from it. When you are in tune with your body it is in tune with the environment, and you are much more sensitive to and in touch with other people and your surroundings.

The Chinese use the concept of opposite, interdependent energies to highlight the necessity of balance. The warmth of summer surrenders to the coolness of autumn and later to the coldness of winter. The cycle continues as the shorter, colder, darker days give way to spring, with longer, lighter days, and continues on with warmth again the following summer. The night always becomes the day and the day always becomes the night. Like day and night, Yin and Yang are opposites that are intertwined. One always balances the other. Yin is the white, internal, feminine, earth, wet, cool, intuitive, contemplative energy while Yang is the black, external, masculine, heaven, dry, hot, action-oriented energy. We all have a unique combination of Yin / Yang Qi energy in our bodies. This combination can change daily based on our lifestyle choices. We feel Yin energy when we don’t want to get out of bed in the morning and we feel Yang energy when we are wide awake ready to start our day before the alarm goes off.

We are all born with a certain amount of Qi, which is our body’s constitutional strength. Think of Qi as your body’s root system, a system that is always in place to feed and nourish you, especially if you have taken good care of it. This root strength, our Qi, can be maintained and strengthened through a balanced lifestyle. We are also born with another very important substance called Jing Essence. We inherit Jing Essence from our parents at birth. This essence (another power within us) determines our constitutional strength, which is the strength and vitality we are born with. Unlike Qi, Jing essence is much more difficult to strengthen. Jing essence is stored in the kidneys, whereas our Qi is stored throughout the body.

The kidneys also house the “Ming Men fire” known as the Gate of Vitality. The most important job of the Gate of Vitality is that it creates heat/fire, which creates movement of energy and therefore creates power within us (think of an engine). Ming Men Fire heats our body and allows the kidney essence to have the power to perform daily tasks needed within the body for proper functioning. For this reason, the kidneys are often referred to as the battery pack of the body. Unfortunately, once our Jing essence is gone, the candle goes out so to speak.

Acupuncture and herbal medicines are another powerful way to enhance your Qi. This system carries our physical, mental, and spiritual power within it and it is what energetically charges us. We experience our Qi in terms of our energy levels. Our Qi changes based on how we take care of ourselves and the lifestyle choices we make. I have coined a term for this, which I call “EnerQi” (Ener-chee). We all know how badly we feel when we’ve been caught off balance and have not been good to ourselves. By being balanced, your energetic frequency will be raised to a much higher level, making you feel stronger and more alive than ever before. The more you focus on the principles of balance in life, the better able and more in touch you will become at fine-tuning your body’s EnerQi voltage with ease.

While we interact with a lot of people every day, every so often you feel you “connect” with someone. Have you ever been inexplicably drawn to a complete stranger, be it a member of the same or opposite sex? We feel compelled to talk to them…they interest us. That powerful connection is due to Qi energy. We are attracted to that particular vibration because it connects and balances with our own energy.

Qi expresses itself as a strong energy field that becomes stronger when we are balanced. By using healthy living and powerful thoughts to balance your EnerQi, you will feel healthier, happier, more relaxed and more fulfilled. You will also have the enhanced ability to absorb the positive Qi vibrations from the world around you. You will find that your body just works better. You will see the positive magnetic effects of your amplified EnerQi as you become more balanced. People will naturally gravitate to you when your EnerQi is pulsating with health, creativity and vitality. When you are balanced, you are happy and empowered to have the life you want ,the job you want, and the relationships you want. These positive aspects of life are attracted to your energetic force field. That is pulsating magnetic Qi power manifested powerfully!

What is your highest vision for yourself, and the life you would like to create? What does it look like to be, to do, to have positive, powerful experiences in your life? Having Balanced EnerQi is relative to the experience of where you choose to place your power and thoughts. The decision to live in a high EnerQi vibration has incredible power emotionally and spiritually.

Life happens to us all. We can ride the waves of change, which are inevitable, much more profoundly and powerfully when we connect to the force within us all that shifts perception. We can all access a physical, mental, and soulful connection to our highest self, to our highest light. Honestly access the EnerQi in your life. Accept where you are right now, what is, and proceed with a plan that will elicit the desired effect for change.

The Chinese believe that our bodies are lined with vertical and crossing internal and external invisible pulsating energy fields called meridians, which are thought to be electromagnetic. Your body’s Qi, blood and oxygen charge them. Our Qi travels along 72 meridians, which form channels to move and distribute life force up, down, in and around the entire body; these meridians cover us, like loosely wrapped mummies in gauze, and connect to our blood, capillaries, muscles, tendons, joints, bones, internal organs, meridians, genitals, limbs, brain, eyes, ears, and nose, teeth and mouth.

Energetically, 12 of these meridians are our body’s main meridians and two are our body’s master meridians. One of these master meridians represent the yin/feminine aspect of our energy while the other represents the yang/masculine aspect of our energy. When our Qi becomes blocked or stagnant, the result is an excess or deficiency in Qi blood, or oxygen, which increases or decreases activity of our bodily systems and EnerQi. Our Qi becomes blocked for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to poor nutrition, drug use, abuse of alcohol, injury, lack of sleep, lack of movement, stress, excessive dampness, cold or heat and a more negative mental outlook on life.

Stagnation or blocked Qi is a main buzzword in Chinese medicine. The Chinese consider stagnation to be one of our body’s “great evil entities.” Unfortunately, a lot of people suffer from stagnation. There are five different kinds of stagnation: food, fluid, cold, Qi, and blood. Any one of these can turn into heat and cause an inflammatory condition.

Various shades of purple and various shades of blue are the colors of stagnation. Think of a pool, of crystal-clear blue moving water. In order for the water in the pool to stay clean and free of harmful bacteria, it needs the movement from the current of the wind. This current circulates the water, keeps it clean, and keeps the energy contained therein moving freely. When the water is still with no movement, over time it becomes a dirty, smelly breeding ground for inflammation, illness and bacteria; call this an “evil entity.”

This is the reason it is so important for us to give our bodies the proper, mental, spiritual and physical care. When our Qi becomes blocked, the movement that is needed for the necessary circulation, which makes us strong and vibrant and keeps us healthy, is not available to nourish us properly.

Our immune system and general overall wellness is a strong indicator of how balanced our Qi is. How well is your immune system protecting you? Imbalanced Qi can lead to pain, disease, and lethargy. Chinese doctors believe meridians are electromagnetic and that each one carries with them their own energetic Qi vibration along these channels. These meridians serve as a grid for us to look for and distribute EnerQi, blood and oxygen within the organs, tendons, ligaments, nerves and muscles using pressure or puncture techniques. By restoring the balance of our body’s natural electromagnetic energy, the body can heal itself and function properly.

The above is an excerpt from Living the EnerQi Connection by Sheri Laine; HCI, 2014; reprinted with permission

How Binaural Beats Have Changed My Life

Despite fighting plenty of demons over the years, I’ve never been a huge believer in any healer stuff. In other words, I’ve chalked up my negative thoughts and emotions to a brain chemistry problem, not a chakra problem.

After all, I have a bipolar II, anxiety, and an ADHD diagnosis; all of this is enough to keep me on a negative-thinking bender throughout all of this life, and most of my next. (Of course, I never believed in second lives any more than I believed in Reiki until two months ago.)

On December 12, 2018, I had a kind of White Light Moment, one that shot up my vibration to what felt like a thousand positivity volts, or however the good vibes scale works. I didn’t even set out to do so.

It all happened in Thailand.

At the time, I was living in Chiang Mai, the Digital Nomad Capital of the World. It’s a charming city in Northern Thailand, home to the infamous Yee Peng Sky Lantern Festival, and it’s packed with hundreds of Buddhist temples, coffee shops and super friendly locals.

When I arrived, I figured I’d poke around the country and see what kind of interesting stories might abound. That’s when I discovered this badass female monk, the Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, who defied the traditional Thai monastic order by getting ordained in Sri Lanka. Since the Thai government and culture at large doesn’t recognize female monks, she’s considered somewhat of a feminist rebel. I just had to interview her.

After listening to her speak about accepting suffering, the nature of impermanence, and how to train our minds, I felt very much at ease and full of positivity. When I returned to Chiang Mai, the uptick in my outlook and mood only increased. This was definitely not some sort of manic swing; instead, I just had a lot of mental clarity and positivity, more groundedness, peace, and what can only be described as a kind of soul warmth, than I’d ever experienced.

I rode the positivity wave as long as I could, scribbling down revelations in my journal about my Higher Self and ultimate purpose. But then I got into a sticky conversation with an ex-boyfriend from a recently deceased relationship. I may have spun his words in the wrong way, but the conversation brought back feelings of worthlessness and stupidity, which left me wondering how the hell the pink cloud could burst so fast.

This all happened at like 2 am LA time, so who else was I going to call for support? I had no choice but to turn to Google. That’s when I learned about evil entities and joy-sucking discarnates—ghosts who attach to your soul and suck up all your warm fuzzies.

Believing that some negative energy had gotten ahold of me—that there was something going on beyond my negative thinking patterns—I decided to put myself to sleep with a YouTube video of chanting Thai monks. It was super soothing and pulled me into a kind of trance—an altered brain state. Not long after discovering this particular meditation video, I stumbled on this nine-hour psychic protection and aura shield meditation video. This was my answer!

The music consists of a combo of singing Tibetan bells, binaural beats and isometric tones. After listening to it for an hour or so, the calm, warm and positive energy and thoughts returned. So I began listening to it in the mornings and sleeping with it on all night, developing a firm belief that if I didn’t sleep with it, I might become overtaken by those discarnate souls or negative energies and plummet back down into darkness.

I have since expanded my library to include many tracks with Shamanic drumming and deep om chants. Not only do they help me sleep, but they also really help me focus when writing (because of my ADHD, this often can be a challenge).

Intrigued by the potency of the videos, I turned to Google again. According to Medical News Today, “Binaural beats activate specific systems within the brain. An electroencephalogram (EEG) that recorded the electrical brain activity of people listening to binaural beats showed that the effect on a person’s body varied according to the frequency pattern used.” This is a physiological process called “brain entrainment,” one that can boost levels of endorphins like serotonin and dopamine, and also give your cognition and concentration a boost.

But the old-school Shamanic drums aren’t without their benefit either—they can also brain entrain. (This is no big surprise given drumming that repeats the same rhythm can easily put you into a trance.)

“What most people don’t realize is that although the creation of binaural beats music has only been possible through technological advancement in the last 100 or so years, the use of this natural science dates back thousands of years,” states the website Binaural Beats Meditation. “Ancient cultures were aware of how the brain could be entrained through sound repetition well before modern science was able to prove the process.”

Now I’ve begun creating my own little YouTube mixes when I’m writing to stay focused and out of writer’s terror. Right now, I have three tabs open on YouTube. Two are playing ADD & ADHD Study Music with Dual Hemispheric Stimulation – Brainwave Entrainment (Isochronic Tones), both on full blast, and one is playing OM Mantra Chants ✜ 1111 Times, also on full blast.

I still hit the hay with the psychic protection video blaring in my ears, and I couple this with a meditative practice to keep the negative thoughts and energies away. As much as meditation, not to mention exercise and eating well, help, it’s actually quite convenient to be able to pop on a song and immediately feel a sense of ease and positivity.

Whether the effect stems from mystical energy-manipulation or just an endorphin boost doesn’t matter to me. Since I can’t take stimulants for ADHD given the bipolar diagnosis, and since I don’t want to shell out a bunch of money for Reiki sessions, these videos are an excellent solution to my problem—one that’s 100% free, comes with zero side effects, and is accessible from my phone.

I’m excited to see what kind of cumulative, long-term effects it might have on my brain. Maybe it will even turn me into a super genius. You never know.

Emotional First Aid Expert Dr. Guy Winch on Trauma

While it’s well-known that recovering from addiction is a non-linear process, it’s more difficult to tell what throws people off course. After getting clean and sober, the difficulty of staying clean and sober is often a surprise—particularly when drugs and alcohol were previously used to medicate many different discomforts and psychological issues. It’s the latter that Guy Winch, a licensed psychologist, author and pioneer of the concept of Emotional First Aid, has taken aim at.

Winch got his doctorate in clinical psychology from New York University, completing a post-doc at NYU Medical School. Though he has a private practice in Manhattan where he sees individuals and couples for psychotherapy, he has also written books such as The Squeaky Wheel and Emotional First Aid. Perhaps what he’s most popularly known for, though, are his wildly popular TED Talks about practicing emotional first aid and fixing a broken heart. While his work has all kinds of helpful applications, it applies particularly well to addiction recovery.

In a recent interview with Joe Polish, Winch expanded on his concept of emotional first aid: “We really know how to address physical injuries when we have them,” he says. “We have no such practice whatsoever when it comes to emotional or psychological injuries.” As it turns out, the “injuries” that we try to ignore the most are the things that create the most problems for us. “Injuries like failure, rejection, loneliness, guilt,” Winch says. “Unless we’re aware of these things, we’re just going to get deeper in and sustain more damage than we need.”

Becoming aware of our emotional state is a practice Winch calls emotional hygiene—and  according to Winch, we should all strive to make it part of our everyday life. “One of the things I’m really for is…gratitude exercises,” Winch says. “A gratitude exercise is getting up in the morning and saying, ‘You know what? The people I really care about right now are healthy, my parents are in good health, I’m really grateful for that because there may be a time in the future where that may not be the case.’”

Research shows that substance abuse disorders are often strongly correlated to a variety of mental health issues—issues which can further worsen our emotional states. Although this isn’t specific only to people with diagnosed disorders, overly negative self-talk is one of the negative symptoms of mental illness that Winch says is a major culprit. “The self-critical internal voice that so many of us have in so many frustrating moments is absolutely useless,” he says. “It’s purely damaging, there is no utility to it.”

While negative self-talk can have any number of causes, it can sometimes be exacerbated or caused by underlying trauma. Some addiction experts like Gabor Maté have theorized that trauma or a lack of connection may be to blame for all (or at least nearly all) of addiction. While Winch agrees that trauma can be a cause, he hesitates to give a blanket explanation—and says that the reality of trauma is much more complex.

“It only takes a few seconds to have trauma,” Winch says. “It’s not a quantitative thing, it’s a qualitative thing. Trauma is something that shocks the system, something that’s impactful enough that it causes you to reassess and rethink your general views on yourself, on life, on the people around you. It causes a fundamental shift, a seismic shift in your psychological system.”

Much like his concept of emotional hygiene, Winch similarly agrees that untreated trauma could lead addicts back to drugs and alcohol, or to negative emotional states that then lead to drugs and alcohol. “When I read that ‘the generalized approach to trauma should be this or that,’ it’s hard for me to endorse,” he says. “You have to have some kind of understanding of it in a way that gives it meaning. In the narrative of your life, it has to be a plot point that leads to something of significance.” While for some people this may mean excavating the experiences, others, according to Winch, may not need to.

Perhaps the underlying problem for recovering addicts, as Winch sees it, is one of positive and negative identity—particularly as they relate to trauma and negative self-talk. “Having a strong sense of self is actually really important,” Winch says. “At a certain level of addiction, it is so prominent in [an addict’s] life that it is the organizing principle. Many people get sober but they can’t maintain it. The problem there is that the addiction has become so central in their lives that there is nothing else central enough to attract them into another way of being.”

For his part, Winch has hope from his practice and his understanding of psychology that people can make changes in their habits to increase their chances of recovery. “I’m not a psychiatrist,” he says,” but my general thought is that it’s a two-way street. Our brain chemistry, our wiring, those kinds of things, impact our behavior significantly. But there are things we can do, behaviors we can assume, that will impact our brain chemistry.” Still, he notes that it’s a bit more complicated than that. “The impact of neurochemistry on our behavior is like a six-lane highway,” he says. “Our ability to impact brain chemistry and hormones by thinking or behavior is like a single-lane country road.”

Because of these hard facts, Winch also advocates getting on medication whenever necessary to treat depression, anxiety or whatever else may be ailing a person. With that chemical boost, people can then begin positive habits to reinforce their change. What all these disparate threads have in common, according to Winch, is simple. “Self-awareness,” he says. “When you hear yourself go through the same argument and it’s not going to get anywhere, stop doing that. That’s my advice in general. When things aren’t working for you, change the script. Don’t just try the same thing but try harder. Change the system.”