Tips for Navigating Drinking Pressures During the Holidays

holiday drinking pressuresThis time of year can be especially difficult for recovering alcoholics and addicts who may become triggered by the overwhelming emotions brought on by the season. Between anxiety-provoking family dynamics, challenging in-laws, and pressure to attend social gatherings, the holidays can be stressful.

Studies show that depression, drunk-driving accidents, suicide, and even domestic violence increase from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. Many of these instances are linked to alcohol and drug abuse – from individuals who are using substances to cope with holiday stress.

Fortunately for recovering alcoholics and addicts, there are several ‘tools’ to survive the season in a healthy, recovery-friendly way. Here are some helpful tips on avoiding temptations at holiday parties, staying on track during holiday travels, and enjoying all that the season has to offer.

Attending Holiday Parties

  • Have an escape plan Arrive to a holiday event in your own vehicle, which will allow you to leave immediately if you’re feeling uncomfortable.
  • Beware of food/drinks that may contain alcohol Even a trace of alcohol can trigger cravings. Watch out for holiday favorites such as eggnog and rum cake.
  • Manage your own drinks – Bring your own beverage and make sure to fill your own cup, so there is no pressure to accept a drink that someone innocently offers you.
  • Choose your events wisely – If negative influences are going to be in attendance or the party is held in an environment that might trigger unpleasant memories, it’s best to avoid the event altogether.
  • Have a response ready – Even if you decline an alcoholic beverage, there’s a chance someone will be persistent. You can simply state that you are committed to a healthier lifestyle.

Traveling During the Holidays

  •  Attend sobriety meetings and support groups – There are meetings and groups in many parts of the world, making it easier to stay the course and connect with others in recovery.
  • Have a sober friend “on call” – Make sure you have someone with whom you can communicate who understands your struggles and can talk you through a tempting situation.
  • Take care of yourself – Make sure you get plenty of rest, appropriate exercise, and proper nutrition.
  • Plan healthy activities – Take the reins and plan an activity where you will feel empowered—one that is not centered on drinking.
  • Be honest – It’s OK to let family and friends know you need a timeout. Use the quality time spent with loved ones during the holidays to tell them you are struggling, and talk with them about how they can best support you.

It’s important to reinforce your sobriety goals regularly. Acknowledge your triggers and refresh your recovery toolbox. Remind yourself about how good it feels to wake up clean and sober, and how far you have come.

Sierra Tucson’s Addiction Recovery Program combines integrative and experiential therapies with evidence-based practices to provide a full range of treatment methods. If you or a loved one is struggling, call our Admissions Coordinators at (800) 842-4487.

Talk About Your Medicines Month

safe use of opioid medicationWhat do Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith, and Chris Farley have in common? They were celebrities whose lives suddenly ended from drug overdose. Sadly, all three tragedies were directly linked to abuse of prescription medications. While the abuse of many illicit schedule controlled substances has steadily declined in the general population, the misuse of opioids (substances found in almost every prescription pain reliever) has increased drastically. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), it is estimated that between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide.[1] What’s more, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimated that 2.1 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012, while an estimated 467,000 were addicted to heroin.[2]

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), opioid addiction is driving the overdose epidemic, with more than 20,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2015. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent opioid-related fatalities. Knowing how to safely use, store, and dispose of medications can help put a halt to this epidemic. Individuals will have a greater awareness of the negative outcomes, thus helping to reduce the risk of accidental overdose.

Safe Usage

Opioids, which send pain-blocking signals to the brain, are found in prescription pain relievers such as hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. For chronic pain sufferers and cancer patients, these medications are highly beneficial as they play a key role in treating long-lasting pain. However, when not used as prescribed, abusing opioids can negatively impact your health.

Unbeknownst to many, everyday pain relievers such as Tylenol and Advil can cause severe damage to vital organs or even fatality, if used incorrectly. Whether it be a pain medication containing opioids prescribed by a doctor, or an over-the-counter substance, one should adhere to label instructions or doctor’s orders to prevent abuse and make consumption as safe as possible. Ultimately, pain relievers can be very helpful, but the slightest abuse of a medication can be life-threatening.

If you’re unsure about a medication, contact your doctor or pharmacist before use. Here are a few ways to safely use medications:

  • Always ask about side effects and how you might react if you are taking other medications or vitamins.
  • Be certain you understand how and when to take the medication.
  • Make sure you know the prescribed duration of treatment and ask if you should finish the prescription even if you aren’t experiencing pain.
  • Schedule an appointment with your doctor for a review of your medications. Put everything (including vitamins and over-the-counter medications) into a secure bag and bring it with you to your appointment. The doctor should inform you of any medications that could cause a negative reaction when taken together.

Proper Storage

Not only is proper storage vital to safety, but where you store your medicine can also affect how well it works. Always keep medications out of reach from children and in a locked cabinet. Improper storage can lead to misuse/abuse by another individual, deteriorate the drug’s effectiveness, or even cause you harm. Heat, light, air, and moisture can alter medication, making it less potent or causing it to expire before the expiration date. It is important to keep medicine in its original container. When in doubt, ask your pharmacist for specific storage instructions.

When it’s time to dispose of your medications:

  • Transfer unused medicines to authorized collectors. You can find a DEA-authorized collector in your area.
  • You can discard most medicines in the household trash by following these steps:
  • Mix medicines (uncrushed) in dirt, used coffee grounds, or cat litter.
  • Place mixture in sealed plastic bag.
  • Throw bag in household trash and be sure to scratch out all personal information from prescription bottles or packaging.

Signs and Symptoms of Abuse

The signs and symptoms of opioid abuse can depend on many factors and may include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Expressions of unprovoked anger
  • Dramatic changes in clothing, weight, and personal hygiene
  • Inability to plan or follow through with plans
  • Obsession with acquiring and using drugs
  • Lying about whereabouts

Physical symptoms:

  • Impaired motor coordination
  • Shallow breathing and slowed heart rate
  • Dilated pupils

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory problems
  • Excessive sleepiness

Knowledge Is Power

The best way to prevent opioid overdose is to improve prescribing, reduce exposure, and stop abuse. With a combined use of counseling and behavioral therapies, the Addiction Recovery Program and Pain Recovery Program at Sierra Tucson offer comprehensive residential treatment for those struggling with opioid addiction. A multidisciplinary team of professionals provides an individualized plan to meet the specific needs of each resident. If you or your loved one is abusing prescribed pain medications and/or opiates, please contact our Admissions Coordinators at (800) 842-4487. We can help.

[1] UNODC, World Drug Report 2012.

[2] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.

Addressing an Unmet Need in Depression

Michelle Chacon, RN

Michelle Chacon, RN

By Michelle Chacon, RN
Certified TMS Clinical Operator, Sierra Tucson

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one of the most common mental conditions in the world, affecting millions of individuals. It is estimated that approximately 4 million patients do not benefit from standard treatments for depression, even after repeated treatment attempts. In the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) – the largest collaborative study to date on depression treatment and outcomes – researchers found the odds of achieving remission from depression diminish significantly with each failed antidepressant trial. Statistically, there is only about a 7 percent chance of remission by the time an individual is being treated with his or her fourth antidepressant medication regime. In addition, the likelihood of the patient discontinuing treatment due to side effects increases with each new course of medication. While these are some rather discouraging statistics, patients whose depression has not responded to first-line treatment have reason to be hopeful.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a safe and proven treatment for major depressive disorder indicated for adult patients who have failed to respond to antidepressant medication. Cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2008 for treatment of MDD, TMS is a form of neuromodulation that is non-invasive, non-systemic, and requires no anesthesia or sedation. It stimulates nerve cells in the brain by delivering highly focused, MRI-strength magnetic field pulses that lead to activation of cortical and deep brain structures known to be involved in mood regulation. The treatment is administered daily for 4-6 weeks and each session takes less than an hour to complete. The procedure can normalize and restore balance in areas of abnormal or decreased activity, resulting in a significant reduction of symptoms or complete remission from depression – all without the typical side effects caused by antidepressants.

Sierra Tucson pioneered the concept of TMS therapy in the residential treatment setting in February 2016. Since then, we have treated over 120 patients and administered more than 1,600 TMS sessions. Sierra Tucson’s therapeutic environment sets it apart from other outpatient providers of TMS therapy. Patients are engaged daily in process groups, therapeutic recreational activities, and integrative services, in addition to having the benefit of 24-hour staff care. Typically, an individual who undergoes TMS treatment for depression attends an outpatient facility, every day, for 4-6 weeks. Navigating 20 to 30 appointments around work, school, or family obligations may seem daunting to many people. Some individuals may not have the benefit of a local TMS provider, and Sierra Tucson represents an opportunity for them to try this groundbreaking treatment that had been previously inaccessible. For those who have decided to take the next step and enter residential treatment, the majority of TMS sessions can be completed during their stay at Sierra Tucson.

Who Benefits from TMS Therapy for Depression?

  • Diagnosis of MDD with no psychotic features
  • Medication failures, such as but not limited to:
    • Treatment-resistant depression
    • Those who have considered or are considering ECT for depression
  • Marginally functional, for example:
    • Someone who goes to work every day, but is essentially just “going through the motions.” He or she does not spend all day in bed but likely has the desire to do so.
  • Motivated for treatment and willing to commit to 20-30 treatment sessions

As Sierra Tucson’s TMS clinical operator, I witness firsthand the remarkable healing and hope that TMS patients experience. As they return for TMS treatment sessions each day, I gradually see the light return to their eyes. They become more active; conversation with others becomes easier; and there is a renewed interest in what’s going on around them. They begin to re-engage with a life they had once given up on, and reconnect with people and loved ones from whom they retreated during their depressive episode. Helping patients recover from depression is the focus of my career. It challenges me in ways I never imagined, and I am committed to making a difference every day.

For more information about Sierra Tucson’s comprehensive residential treatment, please call our Admissions Coordinators at
(800) 842-4487.

Residential Accountability and Safety Coaches Create a Safe Environment

Sierra Tucson's team of Residential Accountability and Safety Coaches

Sierra Tucson’s team of Residential Accountability and Safety Coaches

By Scott Frazier, MSC
Manager, Eating Recovery Services

As pioneers in integrative treatment, Sierra Tucson created a new role – Residential Accountability and Safety Coach (RASC) – to bridge the gap between safety and assisting a resident to maintain his or her own level of accountability. Understanding the complex needs of an individual in crisis is vast and residents that come to treatment have various levels of differences, which may include engaging in maladaptive behaviors. Sierra Tucson created the RASC position as a means to track each resident and encourage healthier, safer behaviors in any situation.

Each RASC is trained in ethics, boundaries, motivational interviewing, trauma-informed care, crisis prevention intervention, customer service, and other skills to keep our facility and residents safe. RASCs benefit our community by creating a least-restrictive environment in which they track each resident hourly to ensure protection and care. RASCs must also take attendance and locate residents not attending scheduled groups and activities to encourage full participation and promote a safe recovery environment.

If a resident starts to isolate or fall into old behaviors, a RASC will reach out to a masters-level residential therapist in order to ensure effective communication between line staff and clinical professionals. Each lodge on campus consists of assigned RASCs with whom residents become familiar to create an environment that fosters therapeutic rapport and ongoing delivery of recovery services. The continuous presence of our RASCs has created a customer-driven recovery atmosphere.

RASCs assist with accountability implementation by engaging in treatment team meetings whereby harmful recovery behaviors are identified. When necessary, they encourage the resident to identify the destructive behavior he or she is exhibiting and redirect the behavior to produce positive outcomes. RASCs inspire positive change through approaches that do not provoke further trauma response from the resident. They are skillful at delivering a message that challenges the resident’s behaviors and encourages community safety. Then, the RASCs convey the responses of redirection or maladaptive behaviors to the treatment team, thus creating a truly integrative and collaborative approach.

At Sierra Tucson, resident safety, community accountability, and customer service are key elements of the resident-centered care we provide. Our dedicated Residential Accountability and Safety Coaches work behind the scenes to create an atmosphere that supports healing and recovery. We have experienced tremendous success since establishing this new role, and our RASC team continues to develop and grow. The wellbeing of our residents is of the utmost importance.

Ready for Change: How the Admissions Team Supports Referring Professionals

Blake Master

Blake Master

By Blake Master
Associate Director of Admissions

With direct efforts from behavioral health professionals who refer to Sierra Tucson, over 1,500 lives were touched in 2016. That’s 1,500 people making a change in order to feel better, improve, and thrive for years to come. It is not only these individuals who are taking a leap of faith when seeking treatment, but also their referring doctors, therapists, and counselors who are joining them on their journey. Having professionals feel prepared for this process is as important as having the residents feel comfortable and ready to begin. Sierra Tucson has refined the admissions process for healthcare professionals who reach out directly to our facility.

If you are a referring professional who is making a phone call to Sierra Tucson, you will be greeted by an admissions coordinator. He or she will gather clinical information regarding your client and walk you through our simple, two-step admission process. That’s it. In less than 90 minutes, your client will be ready to begin individualized treatment at Sierra Tucson.

Now, what happens while your client is in treatment? To ensure fluidity of care, Sierra Tucson will update you, the referring professional, weekly while your client is in treatment at our facility. We understand and respect that professionals have a history with the individual whom they referred, and the clinical information they  provide helps us deliver precise care. This weekly contact will continually happen until discharge. Sierra Tucson also understands that the upcoming change of treatment environment can be stressful for the individual and all parties involved. As your client’s treatment experience comes closer to completion, we make this process as smooth as possible for all involved.

Sierra Tucson has a three-pronged approach to its continuum of care. First, we communicate with the resident’s treatment team to assist with the individualized continuing care plan, which may include stepping down to a lower level of care (i.e., PHP, IOP, extended care, sober living, or continuing care with the referring professional). Second, the resident will be enrolled in Connect365, our year-long continuing care service offered to residents at no additional cost. Your client will engage in weekly communication with his or her recovery coach for one year post-discharge to help with the transition from treatment to life in recovery. Finally, the resident will have all of the offerings that come with being a Sierra Tucson alum, including support groups offered throughout the country, workshops, social activities, and the annual Alumni Retreat.

Our primary goal is client success. Pending the appropriate releases, we believe that communication and working collaboratively with treatment professionals help create a supportive environment that aids in the resident’s healing journey.

“The intake department at Sierra Tucson is extremely effective and efficient. I can usually expect an email response to our inquiries within 90 seconds from two separate intake specialists. They are quick to run verification of benefits, and great on the phone with our clients and their family members. If we ever want something done quickly, we know that Sierra Tucson is the first place to call.”
– From an outpatient professional group in Newport, CA


Alumna Shares Her Gratitude

Thank you so much to everyone at Sierra Tucson, especially my counselor, Phil Mitchell.

Since completing treatment, I have finished both of my masters’ degrees (MSW and MPH), have a job as a study coordinator and smoking cessation counselor, and have started yoga teacher training.

Let the journey continue – it truly is a miracle!

With unending gratitude,

Jessica W.
Philadelphia, PA

The Powerful Gift of Recovery as an Art Form

Scott Frazier, MSC

Scott Frazier, MSC

By Scott Frazier, MSC
Manager, Eating Recovery Services

Art is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination placed on any medium. The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) defines art therapy as an integrative mental health tool that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship. Art therapy effectively supports personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns. It is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.

The use of art therapy—particularly mask-making—in a clinical setting can encourage self-exploration in a non-threatening way. I have used masks to help someone who is struggling with self-expression, suffering from depression, or experiencing a ‘freeze’ response when activated. Many residents at Sierra Tucson who are suffering from major depression and low self-esteem forget they have talents. They have placed themselves in social isolation and neglected to enjoy the things they learned in early childhood that supports creative expression.

Pablo Picasso once stated, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” There is nothing like being a clinician and helping a client gain insight into new cognitions for identifying strengths, talents, maladaptive behaviors, and coping strategies; setting new goals; and, ultimately, finding freedom. Art projects create a sense of self-reflection by allowing the individual to look at problems and then place his or her experiences onto an external medium. He or she is able to express and safely explore that which has been weighing him or her down, thus expanding his or her ability to function and express.

For one particular art project, I ask residents who are struggling with expression or depression to get a blank paper mask from our art supplies. I direct them to use art as a form of expression; on the front of the mask, they must depict how they present themselves to others through the use of drawings, symbols, and words. Next, they address the inside of the mask, depicting how they really feel or see themselves—especially in ways that differ from the front of the mask. I encourage them to get creative and have fun with the assignment. After completing the project, residents are asked to share how they interpret their own mask, including images, symbols, and words. This allows each participant to experience and identify his or her perceptions and feelings.

Oftentimes, residents entering Sierra Tucson have learned to change how they feel to protect themselves or manipulate their environment. It is common to see that both sides of the mask are different from one another, and the individual is encouraged to explore the symbolized mask. This is a great way for clinicians to gain insight into what is happening with the client both internally and externally. To unlock the ability to express oneself without going into a ‘freeze’ state opens the door for recovery from trauma or depression.

In one particular instance, a resident had a flat affect and refused to share information. She would disassociate anytime she felt unsafe. She had engaged in anorexia and alcohol—her metaphorical masks—as a means to control her environment and cope with the daily grind of life. As I established the initial rapport, she agreed to participate in the mask project and meet with me once more before giving up on treatment. I was amazed when she came in for the next session, as she had completed her art project immaculately. The outside of the mask was covered in dots, flowers, and green hair covering one eye; words surrounded the flowers and mouth, while only one word was placed near her green hair.

  • The words written around the flowers: motivated, honest, helpful, happy, friendly, loyal, trustworthy, connected, leader, love, and quiet.
  • The words written around the mouth: guarded and dedicated.
  • The word written near the green hair: stubborn.

As she presented her mask, she explained how the flowers represented behaviors that assured others she is OK. When she engaged in these behaviors, she felt like she could quiet down the critical voice from within. She began to tear up as she stated how much energy it takes to meet other people’s needs so she can feel good about herself.

Pointing to the word guarded, she then shared that she had experienced trauma, and how everything that left her mouth had to be evaluated so she could protect herself from harm. As she moved on to the last word—stubborn—she pointed to her own hair, which was green and partially shaven. She had a big smile on her face and said, “This is me! My hair represents that I am stubborn and won’t quit.” What a moment to see a person capture a positive viewpoint and be able to express herself where there was no voice before. As she sat with the emotions, she said, “I feel pride in not wanting to quit.” A magic transformation started to take place and motivation was then explored. She agreed not to give up on recovery and wanted to complete the inside of the mask.

Individuals gain personal insight through creativity and problem-solving. New ways of communicating allow for improved connection with others, and residents develop and rediscover talents and passions. The power of art as a form of self-expression is a gift that can aid in healing and recovery.

Celebrating Every Body: The Body Positive Movement in Action

Rachel Reid, RD

Rachel Reid, RD

In today’s world of Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Pinterest, photos of near-perfect bodies and flawless faces flood the social media scene. While many celebs and citizens alike are promoting a new approach to beauty known as the body positive movement, it’s easy to fall into the toxic trap of comparing ourselves to others. The good news is we’re making progress toward positivity and a healthy lifestyle. Rachel Reid, RD, a dietitian at Sierra Tucson, offers insight for men and women who are struggling with disordered eating patterns and poor body image.

Q: What are some ways in which individuals can celebrate their bodies?
RR: Daily positive affirmations are key. Give yourself compliments daily. Create a list of all the wonderful activities your body is capable of doing, and then read this list on a daily basis and add to it often. Those struggling with disordered eating can celebrate their bodies simply by giving themselves permission to eat foods they love and add a dose of fun to each day.

Q: How can we shift our focus from body hatred to being grateful for a healthy body?
RR: Give up the scales and the calorie-counting apps. You can honor your hunger by choosing foods that make you feel good. Focus on the flavors, textures, colors, and aromas of your food to promote a mindful eating experience. Celebrate your body by choosing exercises that bring you joy and pleasure. Remind yourself daily that your body is much more than its physical appearance, but an instrument to experience life’s adventures and a shell to your soul.

Q: How does Sierra Tucson promote body acceptance while staying mindful of a healthy meal plan and lifestyle?
RR: At Sierra Tucson, we do our best to avoid focusing on weight and numbers. We encourage our residents to focus on how their body feels, how much energy they have, and how well they are able to accomplish their daily tasks with adequate nutrition. We have a number of opportunities for residents to use their bodies in new and challenging ways such as our ropes course, rock climbing wall, equine therapy, yoga, and other practices that support body acceptance. Mindful movement is a therapeutic way to maintain a healthy lifestyle as well as improve mood and body image.

Q: What changes do you hope will transpire from the body positive movement?
RR: I hope the body positive movement will begin to counter the notion that our bodies are not good enough. I hope people begin to realize how beautiful and extraordinary their bodies really are. I hope we can disconnect our focus on appearance and turn our attention to health.

About Our Eating Recovery Services

Sierra Tucson’s Eating Recovery Services provide comprehensive treatment for individuals (18 years and over) struggling with disordered eating as a co-occurring condition. Residents benefit from our wide range of medical and clinical services that address disordered eating and simultaneously treat primary diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, trauma, chronic pain, or substance use disorder. For information, call our Admissions Coordinators at (800) 842-4487.

Body Healing Before Body Positivity


Jill Sena, MA, LAC, SEP

Summertime is often a trigger for individuals struggling with disordered eating patterns. Less clothing and barely-there bikinis can evoke anxiety and depression in those who suffer from maladaptive eating behaviors. We’re taking a more in-depth look at the societal movement toward ‘Body Positivity.’ Jill Sena, MA, LAC, SEP, a primary therapist at Sierra Tucson, offers insight on what it means to heal from disordered eating patterns, and how healing precedes a body-positive attitude.

Q: How does healing from disordered eating help with body positivity?
JS: Residents engaged in our Eating Recovery Services learn to listen to their body in healthy ways. They become aware of what their body needs and start listening to internal cues around what their body wants. They discover the importance of connecting with their body and begin to experience different aspects of their body that have been shut down for so long due to trauma. Individuals learn to let go of body hatred and direct that anger in appropriate places. This allows for the possibility of a body-positive attitude and treating the body as a vessel for healing. Residents come to understand that the body has many messages to communicate once they are ready to listen to its cues.

Q: How do Sierra Tucson’s Eating Recovery Services help those struggling with disordered eating patterns to heal holistically?
JS: Sierra Tucson’s Eating Recovery Services address the importance of healing the whole person – mind, body, and spirit. We focus on teaching residents how to make healthy food choices and taking care of their body in a healthy way. Residents engage in several modalities including Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, acupuncture, massage, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), mindfulness, and other alternative treatment methods. Additionally, residents develop their own sense of spirituality.

Q: What does recovery from disordered eating look like?
JS: Healing from disordered eating includes no longer eating (or restricting) to soothe emotions. Residents learn to eat when they are hungry and get in touch with body cues. This is a process that usually starts with a meal plan; the resident gradually begins to listen to his or her internal body cues. Long-term recovery means making a commitment to recognize emotional hunger versus physical hunger; having a new relationship with food and using it to feed the body, not emotions; and dealing with emotions in a healthy and effective manner.

Q: What are some tools to help individuals practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness?
JS: People can work on self-compassion by observing and noticing their inner critic and exploring if this critic helps or hurts them. Most people heal in a loving environment and not when they are surrounded by constant criticism, which puts them in a fight-or-flight state. The brain does the same when we criticize ourselves. The body cannot relax and is on hyper-alert no matter if it’s external or internal criticism. We are all worthy of self-forgiveness because we are all imperfect. Learning to love oneself in various ways, every day, can change old neural pathways. It is a challenge, but it can happen a little bit at a time.

About Our Eating Recovery Services

Sierra Tucson’s Eating Recovery Services provide comprehensive treatment for individuals (18 years and over) struggling with disordered eating as a co-occurring condition. Residents benefit from our wide range of medical and clinical services that address disordered eating and simultaneously treat primary diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, trauma, chronic pain, or substance use disorder. For more information, call our Admissions Coordinators at (800) 842-4487.

A New Path to Healing: Refuge Recovery


Sandra Guilfoyle, MS, LPC, NCC

By Sandra Guilfoyle, MS, LPC, NCC
Primary Therapist

Over the last nine years working with clients with substance use issues, I kept hearing over and over, “I don’t like the 12 Steps. I don’t have a Higher Power, it doesn’t make sense.” Once a client made up his or her mind that he or she would not be involved with the 12 Steps, the options grew very limited for other types of recovery tools. I could relate to an extent and recalled from my own early recovery how meditation saved my life. I began teaching mindfulness and meditation to help clients connect with themselves and learn tools like compassion, forgiveness, generosity, and service to others.

A few years ago, I heard about a Buddhist teacher named Noah Levine, a former addict and punk rocker adorned with tattoos who teaches meditation to addicts based on the Buddhist teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. I was curious and wanted to find out more; I bought his book, “Refuge Recovery.”

Refuge Recovery is a practice, a process, a set of tools, and a path to healing addiction and the suffering caused by addiction. The main inspiration and guiding philosophy for the Refuge Recovery program are the teachings of Siddhartha (Sid) Gautama, a man who lived in India twenty-five hundred years ago. Sid was a radical psychologist and a spiritual revolutionary. Through his own efforts and practices, he sought to understand why human beings experience suffering. He referred to the root cause of suffering as “uncontrollable thirst or repetitive craving.” Sid came to understand and experience a way of living that ended all forms of suffering through a practice and process that includes meditation, wise actions, and compassion. After freeing himself from the suffering caused by craving, Sid spent the rest of his life teaching others how to live a life of well-being and freedom, a life free from suffering.

Refuge Recovery focuses on continuing Sid’s work, allowing the opportunity to connect with oneself and practice healthy behaviors of service, mindfulness, and compassion to others while using meditation, generosity, forgiveness, and peace to stay sober.

Sierra Tucson offers weekly Refuge Recovery meetings for all residents, as suffering can be related to addiction, mood, trauma, disordered eating, and chronic pain. A typical meeting opens with introductions, the Refuge Recovery preamble, a short meditation, and readings from the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path, followed by a discussion of how and what action can help us accept and move toward having more awareness, building a community, and finding support for healing.

About Sandra Guilfoyle, MS, LPC, NBCC
Sandra Guilfoyle’s experience in substance abuse began at age 15 when she started attending Alateen—and later Al-Anon—to learn coping skills around family members using substances. After a successful career in the symphony orchestra field for 15 years, she received her Master of Science in Clinical Counseling from the University of Phoenix, Tucson Campus. Sandra went on to community mental health, where she treated a broad range of mental health disorders, deepening her understanding of multifaceted needs of clients. She went on to work at the Tucson Center for Psychotherapy and then moved to Ohio for family reasons. She holds a Licensed Professional Counselor license in Ohio, where she had a private practice specializing in substance abuse, LGBTQ, adolescents, and women’s issues. She also worked at Legacy Freedom Treatment Center, a holistic 90-day intensive outpatient program. She uses an integrated and holistic approach in her work, drawing from mindfulness, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), person-centered therapy (PCT), transpersonal psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and family systems theory, as well as her personal study of meditation. Sandra believes in a person’s innate ability to grow, transform, and heal when he/she has the tools and feels safe to explore the deepest parts of himself/herself.

Body Beautiful: Finding Authentic Beauty in Self-Acceptance

Emme hi rez Shin Kishima

Supermodel Emme

Known for her advocacy work in creating a more body-positive society, supermodel Emme has made it her mission to incite a cultural shift in the status quo. Her 2016 #BodyBeaUtiful project, co-sponsored by Sierra Tucson and Timberline Knolls, featured videos and messages of individuals who shared their personal stories and joined the #BodyBeaUtiful conversation. We started our own conversation with Emme about this monumental movement from body dissatisfaction to body acceptance. Here’s what the TV personality, author, brand spokesperson, motivational speaker, lecturer, and, most important, mother, had to say:

Q: What does it mean to accept your body just as you are?
Emme: We accept our bodies just as they are when we desperately want to stop negative self-talk and find relief from body bashing. By giving in to a healthy change, we are finally able to accept who we are at any given minute, day, or moment. By learning new tools of communication – consciously forgiving family members, friends, and those to whom we are connected for the negative body culture they may portray – we then accept complete responsibility for ourselves and our feelings, regardless of what others may feel, say, or do. Ultimately, we set ourselves free.

Q: How can you change your mindset from shaming your body to loving your body?
Emme: Like training a family pet, we need to train ourselves to unlearn that which has been ingrained in our minds of how an individual must look, act, and project himself or herself to the world. Additionally, to further shape-shift our thinking, brushing up on the facts about our bodies and ourselves is helpful to solidifying what we think and how we feel the next time we look in the mirror or comments are made about our physical appearance. For instance:

  1. Educate yourself on the three natural body types: ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph. Determine which one your body naturally gravitates toward and embrace it, allow it to be, and honor it.
  2. Learn about myths around health and fitness. For example, an article in The New York Times, written by exercise scientist and researcher Steven Blair, set the record straight that being thin does not equate to being healthy or physically fit. Good health and fitness come in all shapes, sizes, and weights.
  3. Begin to speak and think positively about yourself. I write on all my mirrors (and you can, too, with grease pens) affirmations such as: “You rock,” “I love you,” “Slay, sister, slay!” “Go there and be your bad self” and “You are BEAUTIFUL.” Each time I walk by, those encouraging words are staring me in the face time and again. Self-care starts with you and me! Creating positive self-talk will change your mindset gradually by being surrounded by positive words and sayings, as well as choosing friends who lift you up just the same.

Q: What does the term Body BeaUtiful mean to you?
Emme: Body BeaUtiful means being the you that you were created to be, not living as someone else or trying to attain someone else’s body. To be real, genuine, unique, bold, special, and divine, at all costs. Naturally.

About Our Eating Recovery Services

Sierra Tucson’s Eating Recovery Services provide comprehensive treatment for individuals (18 years and over) struggling with disordered eating as a co-occurring condition. Residents benefit from our wide range of medical and clinical services that address disordered eating and simultaneously treat primary diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, trauma, chronic pain, or substance use disorder. For more information, call our Admissions Coordinators at (800) 842-4487.