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AN INTERVIEW WITH SALLY BARTOLAMEOLLI
June 10, 2008, by Alyce Barry
Sally Bartolameolli is a Certified Shadow Work® Facilitator, holistic health counselor, intuitive spiritual mentor, and a frequent facilitator for Women In Power. She is co-author of Relationships from Addiction to Authenticity: Understanding Co-Sex Addiction, A Spiritual Journey to Wholeness and Serenity, published by Health Communications, Inc., in April 2008, with a Foreword by John Bradshaw. As we write, the book is on Amazon.com's Bestseller lists in the categories of Codependency and Twelve-Step Programs. She is completing her new book on sacred feminine spirituality with intentions of it being published within the next year. Sally lives part-time in Houston, Texas, with her teenage daughter by her first marriage and part-time with her geophysicist husband in Nigeria. (The "ol" in her last name is silent: "bar-tuh-me-OH-lee.")
AB: How did you first get involved in healing work?
Sally: My journey in self growth and transformational work began about 20 years ago. I had been bulimic for several years, and even though I had stopped bingeing and purging, the first thing I turned to under stress was food. I was in a group with a therapist, and when I began examining some trauma and other aspects of my childhood, the therapist encouraged me to attend Overeaters Anonymous and Co-sex Addicts Anonymous as well as Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families. That was in 1988, and I got involved with all three programs at the same time.
Professionally, I began my career in education. When I found twelve-step spiritual recovery, I also began doing emotional healing work with a small community. Doing emotional healing work with individuals and in groups and teaching resonated deeply within me. I taught this emotional healing process professionally for about ten years and then took a break and went into the business world. I recruited salespeople, meaning I was a sort of headhunter for salespeople, both independently and as an employee of several organizations. I had a wonderful time doing that.
I was just beginning to realize I wanted to get back into transformational work when I did Women In Power and was really attracted to the organization. I came from a big family and had always been involved with a lot of groups and circles. It was a tremendous gift to find a level of maturity I hadn't found before in a women's circle and to fulfill my desire for connection with women in a more powerful way than I had in the past.
AB: How did you come across Women In Power?
Sally: My husband at the time was really active in the ManKind Project (MKP) community. In May 2005, he and I had been separated for about five months. We'd always had the intention of getting back together, but there were some very challenging dynamics that required our living apart for a bit. We stayed connected in other ways. He sent me a flyer about a Carpet Work Training that was happening in Houston and suggested that we attend it together. It was a co-gender group led by two men from MKP.
He suggested I visit the Shadow Work® website to learn more about it, and I found there a link for Women In Power (WIP). I called him back and said I hadn't made a decision yet about the training in Houston, but I liked the wolf at the WIP website. So I signed up and went.
It was a very powerful experience. At the end of the weekend, as I was running to my car to get to the airport, I asked one of the founders, Sara Schley, "How can I support WIP in growing?"
She said, "You have to be a Certified Shadow Work Facilitator." And I said, "Okay!" So I started training to support WIP.
I did the Basic Facilitator Training in December 2005, the last one that Mary Ellen Whalen led. The following September I did the Advanced Training, and then the Leader Training the next month. Then in January 2007 I did my certification weekend in Houston.
AB: So you became fully trained and certified in about 13 months. That's really fast you must have been ready!
Sally: I had about ten years of emotional healing work under my belt, facilitating weekends in the late 1980s and 1990s, so it wasn't a brand new experience for me. I knew how to be with people, how to connect with them, how to step back and look. I have a lot of Lover energy and knew how to move with that. I had to learn how to drop in the Shadow Work tools, which was a challenge for me.
AB: Tell me how you came to write a book on co-sex addiction.
Sally: I had known my co-author, Claudine Pletcher, for about five years. Our personal stories were very different, but our behaviors were very similar in some ways and so were the solutions. Dealing with this particular dis-ease seemed to resonate deeply within both of us, and we wanted to share that experience with other women to make a difference in their own challenges.
AB: I don't think I'd heard the term "co-sex addiction" before.
Sally: Many people haven't heard of it. Early on, Claudine and I joked about it. People hear a lot about sex addiction, and a lot of people identify themselves as sex addicts. But very few identify themselves as co-sex addicts. Claudine and I joked that we don't even get to have our own disease. [Laughs.]
Nobody talks about our addiction; it's like a master overlay.
We also believe that, for some women, there's a payoff in not having their own disease. What tends to happen is that their partners get caught, and it's often easier to blame their partners than it is to own that they have this disorder and that's why they're in this situation.
Sally: Right. And Claudine and I would say that your belief that you're not pretty enough would be an aspect of co-sex addiction. Women who struggle with this addiction engage in what we call "lack mentality," believing that we're not enough, we're not fit enough, we're not pretty enough, and we live out that lack mentality in all areas of our lives. We would say that you're carrying shame that doesn't belong to you.
AB: What was the writing process like for you?
Sally: It took us 12 or 13 years to write the book because of the emotional intensity that was required. We believed we had to be emotionally present during the process in order to be authentic in our sharing. We'd get so exhausted that we couldn't meet for extended periods of time. And there were two of us, so we were managing not only our histories, our herstories, our trauma and healing, but our relationship with each other. We laughed a lot because we really had to.
AB: In what ways did your personal story surface in the book?
Sally: There are bits and pieces of my story weaved into the book. I didn't want to focus more directly on my story because it's somewhat atypical. We wanted to write about not only the addiction per se but, in a very broad sense, about how, both in individual families and in our culture generally, women are set up to look outside of themselves to fill the emptiness within.
My setup for co-sex addiction began when my father died suddenly when I was 15 months old, and I grew up without that connection. But it's not just the loss that causes dysfunction and difficulty and addiction. I think it's the loss combined with the lack of an emotional presence in a family system that would allow for that loss to be grieved and that trauma to be released.
As a result of not having a family that was emotionally available to me, I began at a very young age to look to food and to others for approval. Then, as a teenager in high school and as a young woman, I looked to men to fill that emptiness.
I also have some history of being sexually abused by a family member. Without minimizing it, I will say that it occurred just once and in a less overt and less directly abusive way than many other women experience as a core trauma in their co-sex addiction.
One of our goals was to use the stories of as varied a group of women as possible. We included women who were in recovery and stayed married, women who got divorced, women who were single, and so on. We wanted to share a variety of perspectives and situations.
AB: I certainly resonate with a book process that took a long time, since my own book took eight years. After this long process, what about the book still has the most juice for you?
Sally: The juice is in the beliefs that I feel passionate about.
One is the belief that for us to authentically pursue our divine purposes and mature in our spirituality, it's important and even essential that we deal with the addictive dynamics within which we grew up. I think dealing with our own addictions, the addictive systems and our own codependency is a necessary foundation to thriving spiritually, finding our divine purpose, and being of service to others.
I think it was Marianne Williamson who said that we have to be sober in order to heal the planet. Another belief is that we have to look at our herstories and histories and heal from our own trauma before we can make a difference in the world.
I also believe, as Gerald May wrote in his book Addiction and Grace, that our addictions become our connection to our spiritual source. Personally, I think that our wounds, as we fully embrace and honor them in a healing context, will transform into our greatest offerings of service and healing for others.
I also have a passion for discovering the other ways in which co-sex addiction affects a woman's life, as in her relationships with other women. I often witness women hurting each other through gossip, triangulation, blame and criticism. I want to encourage women to heal their relationships with their mothers and with themselves so that we can look at other women as allies and stand together and support each other. Without doing this work on our families of origin and the ways we carry shame and self-perpetrate, we can't stand in unity with each other.
AB: After these dozen years, what's it like to see the book published and out in the world?
Sally: Over the last several months, I found there was some residual fear and shame coming up about my name being on a book. "Do I really want to do this? What will my family say? Did I say it all the way I wanted to? If you want to keep any anonymity, that's gone."
I had this sense of being exposed. Some old messages came up: "Do you deserve this? Who do you think you are?"
The intensity of my reactions surprised me, and I brought them to prayer meditation. Like other shame and wounds that I've walked through in the past, they seemed to heal and dissipate, and I came back to feeling joy and happiness about the book being published.
AB: The book's Foreword was written by John Bradshaw, the bestselling author on recovery. How did he get involved?
Sally: Claudine is great old friends with John. He read the manuscript and felt really excited about it, and he committed to doing whatever he could to bring the message to the public. He contacted someone he knew the president of Health Communications, Inc. (HCI) and two people there read the manuscript and called us just weeks later to say they'd like to move forward. It was very thrilling and very much a dream come true. We feel a lot of gratitude for John and for HCI and for their speed in acting.
I spent some time getting to know John in Seattle. He's still making a difference in people's lives. He's got a very good heart and still a brilliant mind. He reminds me of Cliff Barry: they both have that intellectual ability to connect the dots and interweave different theories. But it really comes down to feeling work. John is currently doing a lot on neuroscience, that's the new thing.
AB: I'm guessing that with this book to your credit you'll be asked for your opinions on human sexuality. Have you come to any conclusions about the differences between male and female sexuality, for example?
Sally: We would say that among those with the dis-ease of co-sex and sex addiction, men get a hit from sex, and women get a hit from their sex addict.
I might take it a step deeper, to say we both come to healthy and spiritual sexuality the same way once the cultural and the family wounds are embraced and grieved fully. I believe that sexuality is first about authentic emotional-spiritual connection, and sexual contact is an expression of that.
I think that when there's full healing in both genders, we're more similar than we are different.
AB: I was thinking of your 15-year-old daughter as I read the story in the book about teenagers getting together at a movie theatre for oral sex. I wonder if you've come away with beliefs about what constitutes age-appropriate sexuality for a young person.
Sally: I believe that when parents are emotionally present to their children, and the children are thriving in a healthy emotional and spiritual environment, the children's explorations and learnings will develop and unfold naturally and appropriately for who they are. This is different from sexual exploration for the purpose of filling an emotional emptiness within, or getting approval, or acting out the ways in which they've been abused and violated.
In other words, I'm less concerned with age than I am with a healthy environment in which they can have a healthy exploration with support when they need it.
As I watch my own children, and the children of men and women who are in recovery and are emotionally present, I'm struck with how different these children's lives are. My daughter's life energy is focused on many health-giving and joy-giving passions that are really inspiring to me. At her age, I was smoking pot, drinking a lot of beer, making out with a lot of boys, acting out sexually in many ways. As far as I know, she isn't doing what I was doing, and that's because she's not empty inside. She has a sense of who she is. She has her feelings, she has good boundaries. I was lost and looking for anything I could find to feel better inside.
AB: How did you find the women whose stories are in the book?
Sally: We have a very strong commitment to protecting everybody's anonymity, but I will tell you we didn't publicly advertise. We both knew women in recovery from all over the world, and if we heard about people whose stories in healing and recovery were miraculous given where they had come from, we invited them to share their stories if they had a desire to do so.
AB: Have any of your beliefs changed since becoming trained in Shadow Work?
Sally: Some of my beliefs have deepened.
The first is a belief I've found validated in the Shadow Work community, that we all have wounds, and that we all have an innate, biological and spiritual capacity to heal them through release and discharge.
Another is that everyone has a divine purpose and a unique service to offer the world, and that we find that service through embracing our wounds and allowing them to heal and transform into the gifts that we offer. I think our deepest wounds become our greatest gifts.
There's an encouragement I'd like to offer people who are working through addictions. As I said, I believe our greatest gifts come from our deepest wounds. If we embrace and honor those wounds and learn to love ourselves in the process, I believe that addiction can be a very powerful spiritual journey.
You can reach Sally by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.