Background, Resources and Links


This Twelve-Step group for family and friends of addicts and alcoholics was an essential part of my journey.  This group and Families Anonymous (FA) will help you manage the tremendous emotional impact of having an addict in the family. I strongly recommend daily reading of Al-Anon literature and regular Al-Anon group meetings, along with one-on-one meetings with a sponsor in the fellowship.

The Pathwork:

The Pathwork is based on teachings about the nature of spiritual reality and personal transformation, which were received by Eva Pierrakos from 1954-1979.  They are all available as a free download from

My book The Undefended Self is a summary of these teachings, and describes a step-by-step process for working on yourself, illustrated by many stories of personal transformation.  This book may be purchased from   or

I studied and then taught the Pathwork approach to personal transformation from 1972-2006, including during the entire time I was dealing with my daughter’s addiction.  There are centers of Pathwork in many places in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil (where my husband and I taught for many years), Argentina, Uruguay, the Netherlands, Germany, and Japan. Specific resources are given in the website.  I have been most involved with the Pathwork taught at Sevenoaks Retreat Center in Madison, Virginia, which my husband Donovan and I founded in 1972, and where we still live and work.  See

In addition to the helpers and locations for Pathwork listed in, the Pathwork offers online groups led by Gustavo Monteiro, a Brazilian man living in Canada.  He leads groups in English and in Portuguese.  His site is

The Pathwork offers individual and couples work, ongoing groups, and weekend workshops.  These are safe spaces for people to drop their masks and roles, and go deeply into themselves, including looking clearly and compassionately at unresolved emotional issues and buried negative and limiting beliefs.

In the course of doing Pathwork, students develop what is probably the single most important asset on the spiritual path:  the capacity to be both fully honest and deeply compassionate with ourselves.  The Pathwork teachings encourage seeing ourselves clearly, loving the truth, and allowing whatever is to be just as it is. Students develop the capacity to tolerate strong feelings without acting out, and to face personal flaws without shame or self-judgment.

My deep immersion in the Pathwork was the context and ground for all the challenges I would meet in dealing with addiction.  In the Pathwork I learned to accept my own shadow side and to see my distortions and negativities as a defense against pain. I melted the numbness that had kept me defended and felt my own emotional pain.  Each time I met pain directly, another defense dissolved, and more love emerged.

As a Pathwork helper and teacher for thirty years, I held a loving container where people could drop their masks and defenses and let their negativities and underlying pain emerge in a safe environment where they could be transformed.  I did not see evil as something to be feared so much as a defense to be seen through. I believed that, when people are willing to look honestly at themselves, they can discover that nothing is so dark in their psyches that it cannot be met with compassion and allowed to transform back into its original divine nature.

And then I had to face the addiction of my daughter, bringing with it a much deeper confrontation with evil, darkness and pain than I had ever imagined.  Meeting that challenge became the real test of all my years on the spiritual path.  This was where the “spiritual rubber” met the rocky road of my life.

My book on the Pathwork was titled The Undefended Self.  My current book Love Unbroken is a graphic portrayal of what it is like to meet life fully, from an undefended place.

The Path of the Santo Daime:

Love Unbroken says quite a lot about this unusual Brazilian rainforest path, which was central to both my daughter’s and my healing from the disease of addiction.  This syncretic religion was born in the Amazon rainforest in the 1930s, and combines Amazonian shamanism, African shamanism, Christian iconography, and mysticism, while directing each participant to find his/her own unique connection with the divine.  Central to the religion is drinking a natural sacrament, a mind-altering tea called ayahuasca, which has been used for a thousand years by native people in the Amazon basin.

Basic information is available at, and in many other websites. This Santo Daime website lists all the many churches in Brazil, including the three places where we spent time and which are described in our book (and shown in the Photo Gallery on this website):  Mauá is a small rural community in the state of Rio de Janeiro; Rio Branco is a small city and birthplace of the Daime, in the state of Acre; and Mapiá is a large community which is located deep in the rainforest, in the state of Amazonas.

Drinking the ayahuasca sacrament in the context of a carefully prescribed ritual can be a powerful, mind-expanding and heart-opening experience.  However, it can also be terrifying and overwhelming for some participants.  It is not for the faint-hearted or the merely curious; it is a serious, non-recreational undertaking.  One needs to approach the sacrament with respect, courage, and humility. One of its frequent effects is a purging of the body—through vomiting and diarrhea. I am neither advocating nor recommending this path for anyone.

The Multi-Disciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies

This organization is dedicated to serious research on the potential beneficial effects of psychedelics and native medicinal plants for healing and transformation.  There are currently serious studies of ayahuasca and of ibogaine in relation to healing from addiction being conducted (outside the United States).  Their work provided comfort for me in forging the unique path Pam and I took in our recovery.  MAPS aspires to influence the larger culture’s attitude about these substances, and eventually to make them into prescription medicines.

Takiwasi Addiction Treatment Center in Peru

This is a treatment center in Peru founded by a French physician that opened its doors in 1992. (It is mentioned in my Chapter 23, “What Will Work?.”)  It incorporates the use of ayahuasca from the Peruvian shamanic tradition into an intensive treatment format, and has a better record of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction than treatment centers elsewhere.  It deserves study and possible replication.

The Work of Byron Katie:

Once I was exposed to the Work of Byron Katie, I started to examine many of the assumptions—unexamined thoughts and beliefs—which were the basis of my suffering.  Some such significant thoughts were:

1) “This shouldn’t be happening” (title of the first chapter of Love Unbroken).  No one wants to be an addict and no one wants to have an addicted child.  So it is quite natural that when life does not unfold according to our wants, we resist what is happening.  Instead of accepting the truth, we believe some form of this thought that what is happening shouldn’t be happening and then defend against reality.

Yet, as Katie points out, it is really very simple:  if it is happening, it should be happening.  Life doesn’t make mistakes, it unfolds just as it is meant to unfold.  And the sooner we come into alignment with total acceptance of what is, the sooner our suffering will cease.

2) “There’s something wrong with Pam” and the corollary “There’s something wrong with me.”  Why did I believe these thoughts?  Simply because what was happening felt painful, often very painful, and it certainly did not accord with my preferences, so I made the (incorrect) conclusion that the presence of pain meant that there was something wrong here.

But is that true?  It doesn’t seem to be.  Pain is simply the call of the life force to pay attention, and sometimes that attention will lead us to action that may help alleviate the pain.  Sometimes, however, as in the case of watching a loved one caught in addiction, we can actually do almost nothing to help until the addict asks for that help, and so we must simply accept that pain is present and that this is okay.  And we can continue to question the thought that pain is not okay and shouldn’t be happening.  It is happening.  And so…if we are to retain our sanity…we simply accept its presence without spending enormous and fruitless effort in trying to figure out how to make it go away.  The only way suffering can be lessened is to stop resisting its presence, to embrace what is here now.

3) “It’s up to me to fix what’s wrong—with Pam and with me.”  This was probably the single greatest delusion from which I suffered.  I not only believed that what was happening shouldn’t be happening, and that therefore something was wrong with Pam and with me, but also that I should fix it!  This was, of course, an impossible job, and the more I believed it was up to me to make things different, the more I suffered.  I agonized about the right thing to say or do that would make Pam quit using drugs, and beat up on myself when I (inevitably) failed to make her change.  I was eventually able to realize that I could not change Pam and I could not eliminate my pain.  Acceptance of what is is necessary for sanity and for serenity.

I recommend Byron Katie’s work.  Her website gives her teaching schedule and also offers profiles of individual practitioners who facilitate this work in many parts of the U.S. and Europe:

The teachings of Adyashanti and Gangaji:

I have been very influenced by the teachings of both Adyashanti and Gangaji.  Both are teachers of awakening, sometimes called enlightenment, and both radiate a profound heart-centered understanding of ultimate reality.  I highly recommend both teachers.  Their websites offer their teaching schedules and list their books.

Teachings of Nisargadatta:

Love Unbroken takes inspiration from the teaching of Nisargadatta (a great Indian sage of the 20th century) in his book I AM THAT, including the sentence:  “Love does not shrink from pain.”  When we know our true nature as love, we cease resisting pain, and accept whatever life is bringing to awareness, embracing everything as another natural movement of life, which always brings with it the potential to expand our capacity to realize and to embody love.

Being and Awakening with Donovan and Susan Thesenga:

Donovan and I have created a website which includes many short papers, mostly by Donovan.  These are descriptions of the awakened state.


Fortunately, I have always had a strong faith in a Higher Power—strengthened in my adulthood by many years on the spiritual path which included study and practice of Zen Buddhism and of the Pathwork.  During Pam’s active addiction my faith was deepened primarily through my work with the Santo Daime—and also through my Twelve-Step work in Al-Anon.

The work of Byron Katie, Adyashanti, and Gangaji and the profound teaching of Nisargadatta came into my life toward the end of Pam’s active addiction, and deepened and reinforced the realizations that had come through meeting fully this particular life challenge.  More recently I have been influenced by the non-dual teachings of Rupert Spira.

Most central to my healing was a willingness to follow love wherever it led.  I learned how to keep my heart open to my daughter, no matter what.  My unconditional love for Pam provided a lifeline for her, when she was ready for recovery. The discovery of the unconditional love that underlay all our human dramas was deeply transformative for us both.

Books that influenced the writing of Love Unbroken:

Pathwork books

My book The Undefended Self outlines the Pathwork worldview and gives steps for working on oneself, and includes many stories of personal transformation.  This was the perspective I brought to facing the challenges of addiction.

My husband Donovan put together a book of basic Pathwork teachings by Eva Pierrakos called Fear No Evil, which further illuminates this perspective.

Addiction literature

Al-Anon literature

Essential for anyone dealing with addiction in the family.  In the rooms of Al-Anon you will also be directed to various good books on co-dependency.

The Lost Years – Constance Curry and Kristina Wandzilak

A mother-daughter journey through addiction; their recovery path was the conventional one—Al-Anon, AA, NA, and residential treatment.

Beautiful Boy – David Sheff

A father’s account of his son’s crystal meth addiction, which deeply humanizes the addict and the suffering family.

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction – Gabor Maté, M.D.

This is the single most humane book on addiction I have read.

Awakening Literature:

A Diamond in Your Pocket

The book by Gangaji from which the title Love Unbroken is taken.  I also recommend her most recent book Hidden Treasure.

Emptiness Dancing

By Adyashanti, a contemporary spiritual teacher, whose teachings have deeply affected me.

Loving What Is and A Thousand Names for Joy – Byron Katie

The Transparency of Things and Presence, Vols. I and II – Rupert Spira

I Am That – Nisargadatta

Papers on Being and Awakening – Donovan Thesenga

I offer you the deepest blessing for your path, and invite you to trust and follow your heart’s longing for truth and for love, which are your birthright and your destiny.

Love and Blessings,

Susan Thesenga

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