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Mountain Peak


On this episode Jay sits down with John Donovan. Through his work as a counselor and group facilitator, a bulk of which was spent facilitating conflict resolution workshops at Folsom State Prison, John has developed a very powerful approach to help individuals develop accountability in relationships, demystify patterns of behaviors, and learn to live life with intention in order to ultimately rediscover their authentic self.


Standing at the top of stairs leading to a door.  Stairs made of stone, carved and set in place, each stone dedicated to my walk.  Each stone fostered in love, carried to lie just so, for my steps to continue onward.

I have come to this place, after countless steps, to decide my reality.

Stairs beginning somewhere on my life journey leading up from that human plane that we have all been set.  All finding our stairway, some stumbling onto, some deliberately finding.

Each choosing to step onto or look another direction.

Our human experience sculptured by another’s reality. Reflected to us through their eyes.  Our inner knowingness bringing us to this step.

Blending also with those we have met and have chosen to spend some time with.  Others that our lives have passed and have noticed their offering to us.

Now standing alone with our wealth of knowledge, ciphered and deciphered countless times, mingling thoughts and feelings, coming to the top only to find a door..

I knock… the door swings open…  feelings rush in, seemingly overwhelming.  Caught in the whirling of lifes eagerness to be whole.  Fire in my belly, light searing my senseless emotions.

A step back can be taken, an effortless movement, as a feather pushed out of a nest glides back to the ground.  I want that comfort that the step back would give to me.  Knowing, to step forward is as fearful as only I can imagine..

Standing fast, my knee bending forward, fear as heavy as lead,

My body is moved forward by that spirit of knowingness.

There can be no other way through my fear.

No other course will I allow myself.

My leg moving slowly like that of a chase scene of a terrifying nightmare. With all effort focused on my body to move onward.

Fear engulfing every atom of my flesh.

I will not cease, I will not be deterred.

Moving forward at any rate, better than that backward motion.

I cry aloud for a comfort.  I cry aloud for a peace.

I step across the threshold.

The spell broken…

       The light fading in…        


John Donovan


Have you ever hurt someone you said that you loved regretted it and then hurt them again, usually in the same way?

Have you ever been in the middle of an argument and realized that you were on the wrong side of the disagreement and continued to argue anyway?

Have you ever been in a situation where you knew that you would regret what you were about to do, and a little voice in your head said, “Stop,” and you found that you couldn’t or wouldn’t stop?

If you answered yes to one or all of the three questions read on:

When I started my recovery, about 30 years ago, I heard the axiom, “This is a cunning, baffling, and powerful disease.” My question was, “What’s cunning, baffling and powerful about this disease?”

The responses that I heard were things like, “One day at a time John,” or “Keep coming back,” or “Let go and let God.” These are powerful axioms but they did not answer my question. I came to understand that nobody really knew what was “cunning, baffling and powerful.” They only felt the effects of a condition that left death and destruction in its wake.

I have since struggled with this condition in my personal life and this is what I have discovered. We as human beings have a mechanism built into us that we refer to as our survival mechanism. It is that part of us that is described as the “fight, flight, freeze” response and has been relegated to that part of ourselves that activates in extreme situations and circumstances. It supplies the body with adrenaline to fight, run, or another chemical compound that enables us to freeze to avoid harm or death. This is the mechanism that caused me to do the things I did not want to do like hurt a loved one again and again. No matter how many times I’ve said that I wouldn’t do, whatever the behavior was, again I found myself doing the same thing.

Here is what is going on.

Because of my trauma, this mechanism was always on high alert. And it is being fed by the information that I put together in my attempts to survive. This mechanism doesn’t know the difference between a lie and the truth. The information that I received as a child was that I was defective, stupid, worthless and I had to act a certain way to survive. These ways of acting became patterns of behavior, and beliefs about me and my relationship to the rest of the world, people, places and things.

I used alcohol to feel some relief. This mechanism attached my survival to a pattern of behavior and who and how I’ve come to see myself in relation to my environment. I created an identity to hide my feelings of inadequacy and lack and this survival mechanism attached my survival to that identity and was put in service to that identity.

The problem is that the identity I created to survive is not who I am.

I created an identity out of information that was not true. It was a lie. That lie became my truth. So now that cunning, baffling and powerful mechanism, the mechanism that enabled us to survive as a species, has been put in service to this lie. All of this has been relegated to my subconscious mind and I have no idea that it, the lie, is motivating the behaviors that baffle me. I justify, rationalize, judge and blame myself for being, weak, stupid, defective, stubborn, lazy, or evil and attempt to hide this from others. I go into denial or I blame others and circumstances or I minimize my behaviors and collude with the other souls that find themselves in the same condition. I became, arrogant entitled, mean, controlling, and needy.

The information, the lie, that is held in my survival mechanism is held there in the form of emotions. The only thing that will dislodge the information is an emotion equal to or greater the the held emotion. No rational thought or reason for me to change the unwanted behavior, whether it be drinking or abuse. It has the power to circumvent the held belief in my subconscious mind.

Note that all of my behaviors are in alignment with the information held in both my conscious and subconscious mind. My subconscious mind has linked alcohol to life, living, and relief. Although alcohol is destructive it is alignment with my internal information. My survival mechanism will do every thing it can to maintain that link because it is in service to my survival and wellbeing.

I have found ways to reframe and heal from the inside out and take this subconscious information and move from arrogance to assertive, from entitled to humble, from mean to kind.

I move the participants in my group through the inner workings of the survival mechanism, (The Reticular Activating System, RAS), and change the internal motivating information in an exercise that brings the lie to be seen in the daylight, reframed and then placed back into the subconscious and the participants behaviors change and are in alignment with the new information.

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