The Masks We Wear

The Masks We Wear

by Sandra Shahrokh
I remember driving in traffic listening to Brene Browns book, “Rising Strong” on
audible and she said, “Denial of emotion is what feeds the darkness.” This quote
resonated with me in a very powerful way as it confronted my many years of living.
Deny emotion and numb out with alcohol. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Even at a young
age I always had a smile on my face. I knew that to deny my emotions would keep
me safe. Chances are you may know someone like this as well and this may even
resonate with you. The funny thing is that I really thought I had it all together but I
refused to take off what I see now as one of the many masks I wore.
In his book, “The Mustard Seed,” Osho writes, “In Zen it has been one of the deepest
meditations: to find your original face, the one you had before you came to this
world – and the one you will have when you leave this world, because you cannot
carry all these faces with you. They are gimmicks, techniques to deceive, techniques
to defend yourself, they are armors around you.”
It got me thinking about the masks we put on depending on what social situation we
are in or maybe we put on a new mask to escape how we are truly feeling. What
mask do you put on when you don’t want to feel something? Is it one of anger
because you are scared to let someone in? Is it one of happiness because you’re
hiding sadness? Or maybe it’s the one of strength because you don’t want to appear
weak. I can relate to all of these scenarios. The point is that when did we begin to
fear our authenticity? Masks were a powerful coping tool for me until they stopped
working but I do believe they served their purpose and kept me safe. The more
healing work I began to do on myself the more apparent it became that I could no
longer run from my authentic emotions.
Breathwork has been a huge tool in facing all of my shadows. It has stripped away
my armor leaving me feeling raw and vulnerable. I remember completing a
breathwork training and by the second day I walked into the training and
immediately was flooded by a deep sadness. I kept trying to figure it out saying to
myself, “Why am I crying right now?!” Again, trying to control the situation. It was
apparent I could no longer be my container for pain. I could no longer stuff it down
and that frightened me. I still wanted so badly to fight the tears but my body and
mind finally resisted. I think I cried for a couple hours that day and I am so grateful.
Grateful I am beginning to create a life where I can be my authentic self.

Breathwork Beats Cigarrettes by Danielle Hering

Breathwork Beats Cigarrettes by Danielle Hering

I’ve always loved my job… helping people heal has brought me the deepest sense of satisfaction.
I felt honored that people were willing to share their stories with me…that they trusted me to
witness their pain and help them untangle it. And I felt this way even before I found the
Breathwork, or it found me.

But now, with the Breathwork, I’m helping people more powerfully than I was before. I’ve
witnessed countless transformations, including my own. The sadness that I thought would
always be there is gone. The fear that I used to hide behind has dissolved. The belief that I
needed to be perfect in order to be loved has disappeared. I do the Breathwork regularly so life
never gets too intense, if I’m confused about something I find clarity in the Breath, I’ve used it
to heal everything in my life, and I encourage my clients to do the same.

I had tried for years to quit smoking and had never been able to…it always felt like something
was missing whenever I tried to quit. I asked my body what was missing and heard (inside my
head) “the love of a mother.” I knew that was an old belief I had, so I didn’t see how the
information was helpful.

The Breathwork was the tool that finally helped me to quit smoking. The Breath showed me
where I was holding the wound in my body that needed to be numbed with nicotine. It showed
how the wound was created and how old I was when it happened. The wound was that I didn’t
believe my mother loved me, and the belief was that I was therefore less valuable than anyone
who’s mother did love them. I was shown how the nicotine and smoke filled that empty space
inside me, so that I didn’t have to feel the pain. This wound would be activated every time I
was around someone who’s mother did love them. All of this was happening subconsciously.
As I let out a loud yell during the Breathwork session, the wound released from my body…all
except a tiny fragment that got caught in my throat. After that session I never thought about
cigarettes, I never craved one, I actually couldn’t even remember what it was like to smoke. It
felt like I had been a smoker in a different lifetime.

The small energetic fragment that got stuck in my throat ended up turning into a growth that
had to be surgically removed. It was malignant, but all my margins were clear and I am
completely healed. Who knows what would have happened had I not released the majority of
that energy from my body!

I share this story to illustrate how deep the healing with the breathwork can go. I didn’t have to
analyze or figure anything out on my own, the Breath just showed me what I needed to know
and released it for me. Some people complain that the Breathwork is too hard, but I disagree,
what’s hard is living a life feeling empty or broken inside… what’s hard is holding onto pain,
anger, fear and sadness. What’s hard is not knowing who you really are or being able to
express yourself to the world.

I feel blessed beyond measure that my career is to bring the Breathwork to people. Having the
tool that I know will bring the relief people are seeking makes me job a breeze. There’s no
reason to keep struggling, the answers are all in the Breath. Yes, it may be challenging at times,
the resistance may feel insurmountable, but the freedom on the other side is worth every

A Life of Service

A Life of Service

Growing up working poor, I didn’t have much a vision for my future self. I was lucky to stumble into a
state college with $500 in my pocket and pretty solid work ethic. After finishing up my undergraduate
studies, the only thing I was certain of was that I was good at being a student, so I kept going. By the
time I was 24, I had a master’s degree, a fair amount of student loans and little direction as to what to
do next.

I painted houses with my dad for a while until I got a part-time job in non-profit. For the next 18 years, I
pieced together a career in the social service sector. I was never really happy or fulfilled, but I kept
telling myself that I would rather be of service in this capacity than working for a big corporation with no
heart (as it turns out, I discovered a lot of non-profits are just like corporations, but with much smaller

In December 2007, I had my last drink. After years of binge drinking and blackouts, I had an awakening. I
was burning the candle at both ends and living a lie – responsible professional working to support
community-based substance abuse prevention efforts who was drinking and driving on the weekends. I
didn’t know it at the time, but it was my first profound spiritual experience. I stayed dry (physically sober
but not working a program of recovery) and life improved a bit. I still hated my job and I was still
suffering from depression and anxiety.

When my dad died in 2011 from a short battle with colon cancer, I slipped into the worst depression of
my life. I didn’t want to live and even though I was being treated for depression and seeing a therapist
weekly, I couldn’t see any reason to go on living.

Looking back, the problem had pretty simple solution. I was totally stuck in self – absorbed with my
depression and grief – and I was not being of service to anyone. My mom suggested I go to a recovery
meeting. I conceded mostly because I was out of ideas and desperate enough to try anything at that

So, at 5 years “sober” I began working a structured program of recovery. Things changed rapidly for me.
I felt like I belonged to a community of men and women who were as happy to support me as they were
to receive support from me. The exchange was simple and powerful for me. A year later, I began to
support women on their journey to freedom from addiction. I found that to be of service to others,
selflessly and earnestly, was the best high I had ever experienced. It was then I realized that the surest
way out of your own suffering is to be of service to others.

One of the things I have come to understand is that no matter what “job” I have that pays my bills, my
only true job in this life is to be of service to others. This realization has alleviated a ton of unnecessary
suffering around my favorite existential crisis of all time (“What Am I Doing With My Life?”). What I am
doing with my life is my best to be a decent human being, to avoid resorting to old coping mechanisms
which want to destroy my life and to share that experience, strength and hope with others.
Just over a year ago, at 9 ½ years sober, I felt a spiritual stagnation and was searching for something to
take my recovery to the next level. I attended a breathwork workshop with Danielle Hering and during
the 6-hour drive back home to Tucson, all I could think was “I must share this with others.” One year
later and I am offering breathwork sessions and classes regularly in Tucson.

I have always felt called to help others, but I never had the tools to do so effectively. Now that I am in
recovery and a certified breathwork facilitator, I feel more capable and confident to truly be of service.
Often clients will come to me when they are out of options or at the end of their rope, spiritually and
emotionally. After a session, to hear them report feeling unburdened, more inner-peace and integration
is a gift I can’t describe adequately.

Today, I experience no greater satisfaction than when I am holding space for someone and championing
them on their personal healing journey. Before each session, I humbly ask to be of service to each client
or group with the intention to create and hold a safe space for their healing to take place.
During a recent breathwork session of my own, I consciously offered myself to spirit to use me as an
instrument of love, compassion and healing. In that moment, I wanted to turn my whole self over to this
work. This is a far cry from the old perspective on life that prevented me from surrendering to anything
other than my carefully crafted agenda. Dedicating myself to a life of service means I get to experience
less resistance and more gratitude with every passing day.

While I don’t have the professional or socioeconomic status I once did, I have never felt more useful to
my friends, family and community. I have heard others speak about “living life on purpose” and that
resonates deeply with me. I am grateful to realize my purpose to be of service to those seeking support
as they heal. The peace and harmony in my life now tells me that I am more in alignment with my soul’s
work in this lifetime than ever before.

At 42, I feel like I am just getting started living a life of my dreams. The gift of service work has been
greater self-love and self-acceptance. I look forward to what opportunities the future holds, not just for
me, but for those I can serve along the way.

by Amy Schaller

The Breathwork for Recovery® Origin Story

The Breathwork for Recovery® Origin Story

How Breathwork for Recovery® Began.
Almost everyone loves an origin story. Here’s mine:

When I discovered breathwork, I was in one of the darkest periods of my life. Things were not
going well. I had given up shooting methamphetamine, but I would drink until I passed out,
then wake up at 2 in the morning, drink again until I passed out, wake up and repeat the
process ad nauseam. (Literally and figuratively.) I had tried to kill myself several months
prior using a bottle of pills and a fifth of tequila. It didn’t work. The pain I was trying to
avoid by drowning it in whiskey and shitty Utah beer was a better swimmer than me. I drank on.
I had already destroyed most of the beautiful things in my life: I wasn’t close to my family;
it’s hard to show up to holidays and birthdays with a .350 blood alcohol level (on a moderate day).
They say a person should be comatose at that level, but tolerance is a funny thing.
I had long lost my position in my spiritual community and razed almost every relationship
I had to the ground, and my “successful career” was face down in the gutter.

One night, after a bout of heavy drinking, I had garnered enough courage to try suicide again. I
texted a friend to let him know I was going to kill myself. The police arrived shortly
thereafter and to the hospital I went. After I sobered up, I manipulated the doctor into letting
me leave before the prerequisite 72-hour hold and, thanks to the empathetic taxi driver, I
picked up a 30-pack and got right back to it. The next day, I had an appointment with my work-
appointed therapist (nothing like showing up to work with double the legal blood alcohol level,
tolerance still is a funny thing) and I walked in the office smelling like a distillery. The therapist
told me that in the 25 years she’d being doing this work, I was the worst case she’d ever seen,
which was a wakeup call. I was 27 years old. She suggested that I check into a rehab for a year.
(I scoffed at the idea.)

After the session, I drove to a friend’s house to hang out and drink. On the way there,
I heard this voice tell me that I needed to check in to a treatment center. (It could have been
the delirium tremens, I don’t know.) Regardless of its source, that voice just sounded…right. So I
decided to enjoy the evening bender and, then, spend the week slowly weening myself down
off the booze. With the help of some friends, I even checked into detox. I packed every suit I
owned, like the pretentious asshole I was, and told the detox crew that they were not to let me
go home until they found a rehab I could attend. They checked me into Cold Creek Wellness
Center, a non-smoking facility, and it was lovely. Everything I needed. I hated it. I complained
constantly and made my peers generally miserable. I was told in group that I was “the most
negative person” they’d ever met. Eeessh.

A few weeks in, a woman came in to lead a breathwork group. I was no stranger to spirituality
and weird rituals (I’m a Gnostic Priest), but this was pushing it. She burned sage and told me
that this breathing would change my life. My eyes rolled so hard into the back of my head, they
thought I was having a seizure. I acquiesced after hearing that I would feel euphoric after we
were done and we soon began an unfamiliar two-part breathwork technique. I felt light-headed
and my body felt strange, which I chalked up to hyperventilation. Halfway through, I started to
feel something I hadn’t felt in a very long time, like everything was going to be okay. For the
first time in my life, it felt safe and normal to be in my body. For those of us with poly-
substance use disorders, it can be so damn difficult to feel comfortable in our own skin, and it’s
a significant part of why we drink and use the way we do. The human condition, a bunch of
swirly emotions encased in a clumsy sack of meat and bones, is fucking uncomfortable and for
those of us who really “feel” intensely, it can be torture.

When we switched to a more passive breathing, I felt like my body was levitating off the
ground. It was incredible. It was as though my spirit had snapped back into my body and I was
truly alive for the first time. The practitioner assured me that I could feel that way all on my
own all the time. I scoffed at the idea.

After the weekend, the rest of the group confronted me about my suit-wearing and proclivity
for polysyllabic speech. I thought they wanted me to dress like a slob and talk like an imbecile,
but all they really wanted was to connect with me. They accused me of isolating and finding
ways to stay separate from them by living and communicating in ways they couldn’t
understand. They were 100% right and I was furious. Radioactive, even. How DARE they. I
decided I had had enough of their bullshit and that I had gained all I needed to from this facility.
I paced back and forth in my room like a caged lion, planning my escape. The Program Director
noticed (they always do) and pulled me aside. She talked to me about human connection and
how I was pushing people away: “Nathaniel, what if connecting to these people was the only
way for you to make it out of here alive?” That’s stuck with me all these years. I eventually
apologized to the group and did my best to connect to people.

For my first year of sobriety, I didn’t put on a suit; not until I knew it was a reflection of my interior,
rather than a facade or shield. I now wear suits almost every day to remind myself of this; to remember the masks we
wear and to do my best to not wear one myself. When I left treatment, I trained to become a
breathwork practitioner. My previous employer, an oil refinery (can you imagine?), had fired
me and the Union was gearing up to fight for my job, but I told the Union President that I was
done. I traded fossil fuels for healing humans.

After a few years of training, I began bringing this work into treatment centers. I saw how
profoundly it impacted my life, and wanted to share it with others, which led me to Los Angeles
– the recovery capital of the U.S. Enough treatment centers caught on to the power of the work I was doing with
breathwork and after 6 years of dedication, in 2015, Breathwork for Recovery® was officially born.
Now, this work is being sought after by facilities all over Southern California. We have the first
Code of Ethics for Breathwork Practitioners in the nation and run the country’s only donation-based breathwork
support group every week, known as The Recovery Circle. Breathwork for Recovery® even offers
a certification program, a path for professionals and clinicians eager to incorporate this
powerful tool into their private practices. When I think back to where it all began – where it
REALLY began – I feel reverence and pride for the person that hid underneath all those coping
mechanisms and it gives me the strength and compassion I need to move forward with these
new, exciting, and (sometimes) terrifying chapters.