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September 2023 – Vol. #21, No.6

Welcome to the September edition of Tips and Topics and National Recovery Month.

In SAVVYa guest writer shares her recovery journey and the role of processing trauma in moving into true joy.

In SKILLS, Leah highlights tools and treatment models that are working for her as she explores practices for dealing with intense emotions in healthier ways.

In SOUL, recovery is a process, not an event. In fact, it is a relationship process – a relationship with yourself and others. Leah shares some heartfelt insights she has discovered over the past year.

David Mee-Lee, M.D.
DML Training and Consulting


September is National Recovery Month “to promote and support new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices, the nation’s strong and proud recovery community, and the dedication of service providers and communities who make recovery in all its forms possible.”

In SOUL two years ago, Katie shared her heartfelt recovery story.

This month, Leah has agreed to share her wisdom garnered not just from her lived experience, but from her passion for training, speaking, writing, and researching at the nexus of trauma, behavior change, and the legal system. She comes from a professional background in education and the courts. Leah is a Statewide Treatment Court Coordinator who focuses on coordinating training and education for over seven hundred multi-disciplinary professionals.

The behavioral health and justice services fields are increasingly savvy about the role complex trauma, event trauma, interpersonal trauma, intergenerational trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences, brain injuries, and systemic oppression play in the development of and recovery from addiction, mental health challenges and involvement in the justice system. Over the past year, Leah and I have collaborated on exploring questions like these:

• What is the balance between digging deep into past trauma and continuing counterproductive coping adaptations and focusing on living joyously and optimistically in the present?

• If trauma (in the broadest sense) is baked in on a cellular level affecting people’s fight or flight triggering responses, what is the mix of psychotherapy, body work and corrective experiences needed to allow a person to live unshackled from the past?

• How can a person with a history of trauma cultivate peace when there are physical, emotional, social and spiritual challenges swamping them?

Leah recently summarized some of her conclusions to such questions. The content in SAVVY and SKILLS is Leah’s. I have edited and formatted it in collaboration with her to fit Tips & Topics. Leah also shares from her heart in SOUL.

If you would like to contact Leah, this is her e-mail: 

Tip 1

To achieve joy and serenity in the Here & Now, there is no getting there without processing the trauma.

The most important thing I've learned in the last year regarding the role of processing trauma in moving into true joy is that there is no escape hatch, no magic switch, no bypass. The only way out is through.

Once I emerged from decades of absolute denial, I still continued to try literally every single strategy available to me short of hard drugs, cutting, bulimia, and suicide to avoid dealing with my actual emotions, including rigid hardcore positive focus.

Ultimately, I learned that when trauma is baked in on a cellular level affecting a person’s fight or flight triggering responses, those most deeply suppressed and painful emotions have to be processed compassionately by the self, ideally in the company of a skilled therapist. This allows reintegration of disowned and exiled parts of oneself and a shift into authentic peace and joy to occur naturally.

When we try to convince ourself that I am or should be feeling joy and peace when you really don't feel that, this is brainwashing ourselves. It can become just another mechanism to bypass having to process these painful emotions, which are the true drivers of compulsive avoidance behaviors.

Tip 2

Awareness of one’s knee-jerk reactions to triggers is a first step in processing trauma.

A sense of self-trust and internal safety may take a long time to develop, as one becomes aware of their knee-jerk reactions in response to triggers. Early on in their recovery processes people often don’t realize that they even have choice in how they respond to their triggers; or that they’re even having a trauma-response.

As this awareness grows:

  • Self-shaming atrophies, and skills for diffusion, redirection, and naming those triggers develop. 
  • Only then can someone begin to truly connect with others in relationships.
  • Only in developing safe relationships to oneself and others can real healing start to happen.

Tip 3

For helping professionals to effectively facilitate their clients move towards joy, an important responsibility is to do their own internal work.

  • They can model self-compassion and self-emotional and experiential validation to clients who are struggling.
  • They can feel and show their clients genuine care, compassion, and unconditional acceptance.
  • They can meet their clients where they are with their support, resources and services.
  • I believe the most important responsibility helping professionals have in helping clients move towards joy is to first learn self-compassion and to validate one's own experiences and emotions. When helpers do their own internal work:



Leah goes on to offer some SKILLS Tips to process trauma.

Tip 1 

Use a variety of tools and treatment models to address the biopsychosocial impacts of trauma.

Meditation, Journaling, Internal Family Systems, Somatic Processing, acupuncture and Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), have all been powerful tools in my personal healing journey.

Without being prescriptive, meditation in any form (sitting silently, guided, moving) helps one feel their greater connection to everything in existence. It helps you witness your mind as it goes about its important daily work of trying to keep you safe and alive, helping to dispel the myth that “I am my mind.”

Journaling or reflective writing is a powerful tool for many people who can best organize and make sense of their observations of their own mind and their experiences by cataloging and synthesizing them on paper. However it is accomplished, self-reflection without judgement is the key beneficial factor.

Internal Family Systems, Somatic Processing, and EMDR are all more in depth treatment modalities that I encourage you to explore more deeply. They are supported to aid in the healing of trauma by extensive research, but each warrant a more in-depth discovery process than can be undertaken here, should the interest arise in you.

Tip 2

Healthier practices for dealing with intense emotions may build slowly at first, but the momentum does eventually lead to an exponential progress curve over time.

Along the way, while attending to this deep work, there is an absolutely critical need for:

  • Practicing positive psychology.*
  • Developing awareness of your triggers.
  • Directing one's focus deliberately towards what you want in life.
  • Moving steadily towards a healthier lifestyle.

But it's also critically important that these practices:

  • Do not themselves become mechanisms for bypassing painful suppressed emotions.
  • Do not help the person continue to stay in their fantasy rescue thinking, which is a habitual/residual protective adaptation that was developed in response to feeling completely powerless at the time(s) they experienced trauma as a child.

Momentum in learning to utilize healthier practices for dealing with intense emotions may start to build excruciatingly slowly. But it's been my experience that the momentum does begin to compound eventually, leading to an exponential progress curve over time.

* Positive psychology is a scientific approach to studying human thoughts, feelings, and behavior, with a focus on strengths instead of weaknesses, building the good in life instead of repairing the bad, and taking the lives of average people up to “great” instead of focusing solely on moving those who are struggling up to “normal” (Peterson, 2008).


I am not recovering from a mental or addictive disease. But as the joke goes, I am a recovering psychiatrist in long term recovery from the stereotypical medication-prescribing MDeity. In fact, I have been accused of being a social worker not a psychiatrist.

Social Workers are taught to be more person-centered and to understand people in the context of social, economic and cultural institutions and interactions. Psychiatrists are only just beginning to pay more attention to social drivers and determinants of health.

A lot of what I learnt about Recovery came from on-the-job training with addiction counselors in long-term recovery when I was assigned to an inpatient addiction treatment team. I was assigned to that team not because of my exquisite knowledge about addiction, but because they couldn’t get anyone else to work on that team.

Recovery is a process, not an event. As Katie wrote in her recovery story, her path into and through recovery involved relationship with others and with herself. So Recovery is a relationship process.

Leah shares some heartfelt insights she has discovered over the past year. They could help you and/or those you serve.

“Only in developing safe relationships to oneself and others can real healing start to happen. Finally, as this happens, and the internal compass is gradually reoriented to it being safe to feel good in oneself, in relationships, and in the world generally, true vibrational shifts begin to occur, and thereby changes in one's frequencies of attraction begin to occur.”

What I hear Leah saying as I ponder the hours of collaboration we have had on the recovery process is this:

  • Recovery is a personal and an interpersonal healing process.
  • This takes honest, sometimes tumultuous exploration of trauma to know that you are safe in just being your authentic self and in relationships and the world.
  • As that personal and interpersonal safety grows in recovery, you experience real shifts in outlook and attract more and more joy, peace and optimism.

Leah goes on:

“As a result of my personal journey, I believe there is only one faith needed for inner peace; the faith that you will not abandon yourself emotionally ever again, no matter what emotions you feel; that ALL parts of you are acceptable and that your WHOLE self is inherently worthy of unconditional love. This radical self-acceptance blooms over time into emotional self-efficacy and authentic present-moment experiencing of good feeling emotions without fear of "the other shoe" dropping all the time. I believe that this deep inner peace is foundational to being able to experience true and lasting joy.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.


Thanks for joining us this month. See you in late September.


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