Sabrina Spotorno: “Practice Mindfulness Meditation”

Practice Mindfulness Meditation. What I have come to learn from my own recent chronic pain journey after a car accident, is that like a child, your pain wants to be heard but does not always have the vehicle of communication that can allow it to do so. This leaves it unaddressed and exacerbated. Mindful meditation, […]

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Practice Mindfulness Meditation. What I have come to learn from my own recent chronic pain journey after a car accident, is that like a child, your pain wants to be heard but does not always have the vehicle of communication that can allow it to do so. This leaves it unaddressed and exacerbated. Mindful meditation, particularly body scanning, creates this space for alignment and allows for curiosity to be more of the first response to bizarre sensations, so that fear can be reduced or even eliminated.

Many ancient traditions around the world believe ‘wellbeing’ or ‘bienestar’ is a state of harmony within ourselves and our world, where we are in balance mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sabrina Spotorno, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC). Sabrina provides individual and group sessions at Monument, an online platform for individuals looking to change their relationship with alcohol and increase overall wellbeing. Graduating summa cum laude from Adelphi University, Sabrina has a generalist education with training in several modalities, including Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Compassion Focused Therapy, Systemic Family Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Narrative Therapy. Having worked in several outpatient substance use and mental health clinics, virtual therapy has been the “new frontier” in genuinely meeting clients where they are at in the healing process.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

My childhood story is one that fills me with nostalgia of all the simple pleasures that made life meaningful at that age. Spending summers on the swing set at my family’s home in Queens, winters full of holidays and birthdays, and seasons of growth for the family and myself. Both sets of my grandparents immigrated from Italy, so the air was always filled with two languages, the smell of Mediterrean cuisine, and stories of a world I had never seen but often felt homesick for. Things changed after 2008 when my dad was laid off from his dream job and I was in the middle of deciding what I wanted to start pursuing as mine. There’s both scarcity and a high achieving mindset that comes with being first-generation. The loss of a large part of my father’s identity contributed to a shift in his physical and mental health, and my awakening of just how much all dimensions of wellness interact in such fluid ways.

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in helping others? We’d love to hear the story.

I grew up in a community of support and encouragement. It fostered a sense of collective healing that inevitably shaped my wanting to see others feel validated and accepted for who they are. I had several mentors built into my family, social circles, and professional networks who all spread compassion no matter what they have faced in terms of adversity or violence. In fact, some of my most inspiring teachers have shown me how they fight violence with compassion, combat hate with empathy, and fear of “other” with education and engagement.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Ultimately my mother was the one that gave me a sense of assurance when I made the decision to pursue a degree in social work. She gave me the ultimate gift of trusting where my heart was leaning. I was always afraid of not making them proud or somehow not doing what I was “supposed to” and in a seemingly simple conversation, I felt so much relief. Her attunement to my needs at that point was a microcosm for what she was able to innately do throughout my development.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of pursuing your passion? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Can I alphabetize the list? I think the most interesting mistake was not thinking my story, particularly my family story, was anything worth talking about (even though my grandmother would tell countless stories that fostered a love of learning about family history.) It wasn’t until I participated in a workshop facilitated by an amazing nonprofit called Herstory. It was then that I realized the impacts of intergenerational trauma, and where my humanitarian tendencies were derived from. I needed that empowerment in order to be able to authentically share myself with others.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

I have to shamelessly plug my idol Brené Brown; “Only when we are brave enough to explore our darkness can we discover the infinite power of our light.”

I think at various points in my life this quote has taken on different layers of depth. Currently it is the examination of the ways in which I have been ignorant to issues like systemic racism and even when I had more knowledge, how little I used my voice since I doubted it made an impact. There’s always the push and pull of wanting to make sure I am not speaking when I should be standing back, and to know when I do need to say something to use my privilege to affect change. It’s owning this tug-of-war that I think allows for opportunities to connect more with the light.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

The most exciting thing has to be working for Monument. It is always exciting to receive a new email on a task that has the potential to raise awareness of the platform and create avenues for reducing stigma around such a vital component of mental and behavioral health. I’ve already witnessed the amazing ways this community has expanded to all areas of the country, and created a place for everyone to be accepted while they heal and change their relationship with alcohol.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In my writing, I talk about cultivating wellbeing habits in our lives, in order to be strong, vibrant and powerful co-creators of a better society. What we create is a reflection of how we think and feel. When we get back to a state of wellbeing and begin to create from that place, the outside world will reflect this state of wellbeing. Let’s dive deeper into this together. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.

This resonates so much with the framework of the dimensions of wellness that I often use in my work at Monument, and beyond. The first habit I encourage is to develop wellness boundaries and create a visual (or at least a mental picture) to refer to. A great way to do this is by asking yourself, “which component of my health am I addressing with this action?” No matter which dimension of wellness you focus on, the conscious recognition of the connection between the task and the intention leads to a gradual shift in boundary formation. That is, of course, if you are utilizing both a compassionate and curious frame of mind to answer the question. The reward system may not activate in ways that are as intense as artificial means, but are certainly more long-lasting and sustainable. A few months into the pandemic I saw a graphic that put this question in a to-do list format. It allowed me to identify at least three daily practices to try to be mindful of, without the pressure of making it a routine. What a game changer.

The second mental habit I would encourage is changing “I need to” with “I want to.” This method of reframing thoughts is often one that we forget without reminders. One day, after explaining this to a client, I was skimming through my email and saw some upcoming bills. At first I sighed with stress from the reminder, and then it hit me. I was not recognizing the very thing I just encouraged my client to try! If I felt I needed to pay these bills, of course I would be frustrated with the “forced” nature of it. If I reminded myself I want to pay them — I want the items and services they are associated with — that is such a different way to view the same situation.

The last mental wellbeing habit I would encourage is to declutter! I do not necessarily want to evangelize for minimalism, although I am a growing participant in the movement, but I do think there is so much to be said about decluttering your living space. I say this not just for the ease it instills in you, but the skills that come out of it (i.e. prioritizing what you need, routinely addressing tasks for daily living, containing what you need to handle at a later time, etc).

I shared my 5 tips on how to cultivate wellness here:

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

I am a firm believer in using any and all apps or videos to guide you through a meditation practice. I think you have to be trained in a monastery to fully meditate on your own, so I would strongly advise being guided by some external narrator. I find reflective meditation to be the most soothing in the morning. That’s when I have the energy of a new day to take note of all the good that can come. I would recommend a body scan at night as a great way to release tension before it is time to sleep. Meditation can play a key role in changing your relationship with alcohol and building healthier habits, so this comes up often in my work at Monument.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.

Have a conversation with your body that is centered in gratitude. For me, that means days where I take the time to thank my body for keeping me well. Other days, it looks like nurturing odd sensations that I have come to learn are neuroplastic pain. And of course other times it is remembering just how well equipped my body is to heal from any physical pain.

Practice Mindfulness Meditation. What I have come to learn from my own recent chronic pain journey after a car accident, is that like a child, your pain wants to be heard but does not always have the vehicle of communication that can allow it to do so. This leaves it unaddressed and exacerbated. Mindful meditation, particularly body scanning, creates this space for alignment and allows for curiosity to be more of the first response to bizarre sensations, so that fear can be reduced or even eliminated.

Keep healthy options accessible; literally at an arm’s length. We are creatures of convenience. The more something is in front of us, the more we will use it. This tip comes from a support group member at Monument who made us all laugh with their stories of the diverse kombuchas and elixirs scattered throughout their living quarters. Laughing aside, this has been a great tool for so many in that the more time they have away from alcohol with alcohol-free drinks, the more time they have to create new associations and interests.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are some great ways to begin to integrate it into our lives?

I have been reading a lot of intriguing work from Dr. Cole, a functional medicine practitioner, who uses the term bio-individuality. It is something that has allowed me to be more conscious of not just what I am eating, but how it may impact my body in unique ways. This concept means thinking about food in a larger context of what it can or can not contribute to your individual wellbeing. This way, it does not feel like you are looking at just universal principles of healthy eating, but what healthy eating means for your body’s needs. I would also refer to the earlier habit of creating accessibility. Give yourself the space to have treats, but of course try to make the “healthier” options more readily available.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.

Note taking. A great place to start is with identifying which emotions seem to be the most challenging to sit with. Writing observations can allow for introspection on how to discern the differences between emotions and feelings, and between thoughts and feelings.

It wasn’t until I read my friend Janet Philbin’s book, Showing Up for Yourself, that I even knew what the distinction was between emotions and feelings. Journaling became the vehicle for me to tell the difference. An eco-friendly alternative is utilizing mood check-in apps to recognize patterns and have data on themes that may be worth diving in deeper with.

Create or join a healing circle. Who can you talk to strictly about emotional goals and wellbeing? I had the privilege to be involved in a coping circle in New York that has now become my most intimate source of support for dealing with additional stressors related to the pandemic. If I did not have this vehicle I know I would continue to suppress my emotions and just continue full speed ahead in energizer bunny mode. I also have the gift of being a facilitator of a ‘Managing your drinking through quarantine’ group at Monument. The sense of support and authenticity of each member knows no bounds. Healing circles are integral parts of emotional health, and something that I hope resonates with us long after the pandemic.

Join Monument. Taking note of your relationship with alcohol is an often overlooked habit for your emotional health. We tend to think that only a select group of people have an unhealthy relationship with it. Ultimately, alcohol use fluctuates for everyone at various points in their lives and has a large correlation with what emotions are repressed or not validated (hint: usually depressive and shame based). Monument reduces the stigma of beginning that exploration and sees the process as a means to genuine self care.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellbeing? We’d love to hear it.

As long as a self-identified man is not telling a self-identified woman to do it, smiling can be an instant mood booster! And it is just as valuable to allow space for the tears alongside the smiles.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.

Pray (this might not mean what you think it means!). Even if you are atheist or agnostic, prayer is not something you have to direct towards a main energy source in order to feel a sense of alignment with your values and desire for a common good. Most prayer truthfully involves quieting your internal space in order to express your concerns and gratitude for your community. In other words, prayer is the art of tuning in so that you can branch out. You are part of the whole universe, so spiritual wellbeing means incorporating some sort of prayer ritual to keep that in the forefront of your mind.

My previous office worked alongside reiki master Lisa Collins, who introduced me to the five principles of reiki: “For today only: Do not be angry, do not worry, be humble, be honest in your work, be compassionate to yourself and others.” I instantly felt a relief and connection to my core that I could only describe as spiritual attunement. Also noteworthy is the emphasis on for today only. There is no need to rush your connection with your spirit, only to take each day with a fresh perspective.

Join a social justice cause. It is amazing how quickly we feel energized to agree with a particular cause but when asked to contribute feel like we don’t have anything meaningful to offer. I believe this has to be talked about more. In the therapy room, for example, there are all sorts of internalized phobias that only exacerbate spiritual dissonance and bypassing. Joining a social justice cause at any level of activism, especially one that intersects with your own personal struggles, re-energizes the sense of being part of the larger collective. A sense of purpose emerges, and you see the radical power using your voice to change a cultural norm actually has. I was fortunate enough to find out about the Women’s Diversity Network ( and learned so many ways to stay connected to this effort of empowering and celebrating women of all backgrounds. You may have to shift roles at different points in your activism work, but I can assure you it is necessary to realize just how much you do not know, and yet be humbled to learn just how much you can still make a difference.

Spend time with the young folks in your life.

I bet when you read this suggestion and think of the closest kids in your life you can’t help but smile or fill up with love for who they are and what they mean to you. I can’t think of a greater reminder of the wisdom we have already built inside us than to check in with the younger people in our lives. I know if I need a reset for joy and peace I just need to talk to my nieces, nephew, or younger siblings. I’ll never forget one day my niece just stared at me randomly while we were singing together and said, “Auntie you are so beautiful.” It gave me such a long-lasting reminder that we are all capable of seeing the inherent beauty in each other if we just remember our childhood purity. Furthermore, spending time with younger folks reminds us that we do not have all the answers. Listening to their thoughts, concerns, and dreams can only enhance our motivation to do better and provide spaces for them to build off of.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate overall wellbeing?

We are nature, so we need time to be in synchronicity with our environment. It’s not a wonder that seasonal depressive disorder is a condition based primarily in winter when being outside is not as comfortable. When we disconnect from our environment, we are not honoring that dimension of wellness that all creatures are grounded on. If you can’t be outside, I strongly encourage bringing nature in with plants and pets.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

In terms of what I would like to inspire, I would say legitimate, daily meditation classes throughout traditional K-12 school curriculum. No one time assembly side-shows, but concrete, routine classes with the option for advanced electives as students progress. It would be a great universal experiment to see what actual skill building in this ancient practice would have for our younger generations and our species as a whole.

And I also want to continue to build upon the movement we’ve started on Monument, which is well underway. Destigmatizing unhealthy drinking habits, and getting more people the holistic, evidence-based support they deserve to change their relationship with alcohol

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Thank you for this question! I did allude to wanting five minutes with Brené Brown earlier so a private meal, even virtually, would be so cool!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Check out Monument, where I lead a support group twice a week, and follow on all forms of social media @joinmonument

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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