Q&A with Cara Sandweiss

Cara Sandweiss, an internationally certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor (CADC-II), is the Clinical Program Manager for CRI-Help, Inc., the legendary drug and alcohol treatment center located in North Hollywood, California. 

Cara spearheaded the creation of CRI-Help’s dynamic team of group facilitators, integrating approaches to treatment, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, and 12-Step Facilitation. 

A Los Angeles native, Cara first came to CRI-Help as a client, beginning her recovery from heroin addiction at CRI-Help in 2014.  She celebrated six years clean on April 11, 2020. 

As a UCLA Alcohol & Drug Counseling Certificate Program Board Member, Cara provides insight into the world of addiction treatment and best practices, in order to make recommendations that may prove beneficial to the UCLA Extension program and its students. 

Cara also serves as a member of the newly-formed Hazelden Publishing Advisory Group, providing feedback on the effectiveness of their evidence-based curricula for addiction treatment. Cara is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services Administration at Antioch University. 

She is also in the process of opening recovery residences for women in the near future. 

She can be reached at caras@cri-help.org, or caramsandweiss@gmail.com

CRI-Help’s website: https://www.cri-help.org/

Q. If you are in recovery, what was your DOC and when did you discontinue its use?
A. Heroin was my #1 priority for quite some time, including alcohol, cocaine, and pills for many years as well. My clean date is 4/11/2014.

Q. Do you believe leaders are made or born?
A. I believe leaders are made. Leadership skills are honed through personal experiences, having a clear vision, educating oneself through the teachings of other influential leaders, having a commitment to a greater purpose, and learning from failure.

Q. Who is your favorite celebrity in recovery?
A. Eminem. He recently celebrated 12 years. I admire his resilience and strength. It’s arduous to maintain sobriety when you’re in the music / entertainment business.  

Q. If you ever retire, would you prefer to live by the ocean, lake, river, or mountaintop, or penthouse?
A. The ocean – but in a city where the weather is generally sunny because sunlight is essential to my well-being. I start to feel gloomy when the weather is overcast or cloudy for long.

Q. What is your favorite hotel or resort?
A. The Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes, Ca.

Q. How do you measure success?
A. Personally, I measure success through inner-fulfillment. I feel successful knowing that I live a purposeful life and that I matter to others. Achieving my goals, having meaningful relationships, connecting with the universe, and making a difference in this world equals success to me. (Dreams + Reality + Determination = Success)

Q. If you had an extra million dollars, which charity would you donate it to?
A. I would split it between The Gentle Barn in memory of Hallie Sills, (my dear friend who I lost to an overdose) and CRI-Help. The Gentle Barn is an animal rescue that dedicates their resources to connecting humans with nature and protecting our planet. CRI-Help has a special place in my heart and I wholeheartedly believe in its mission. 

Q. Who was your biggest influence throughout your life?
A. My parents, Paul and Abbie Sandweiss.

Q. What is your current hobby?
A. Horseback riding. For much of my childhood I rode in competitions but eventually stopped and decided to sell my horse. I recently began taking lessons again with an incredible trainer so I plan to start competing again.

Q. What is your FAVORITE Radio show, news show or Podcast or APPS?
A. I rotate between the Tim Ferriss, Joe Rogan, and Tony Robbins podcasts.

Q. What is your FAVORITE TV/cable/digital series?
A. Peaky Blinders, Billions, Game of Thrones, and Animal Kingdom (I can’t pick just one, sorry!) 

Q. What is your FAVORITE Cuisine?
A. Sushi. If you are ever in Studio City (Ca) you have to go to Asanebo. Their sushi is absolute perfection.  

Q. Do you take work home with you?
A. I genuinely try not to but it happens. My boyfriend owns an outpatient addiction treatment center so between the two of us – it’s inevitable. Especially for anyone who works in an environment where not only the clients, but also many of the staff are in recovery, it’s a given that thoughts and emotions are going to come home with you.

Q. What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. Embrace reality and deal with it.

Q. Do you think addiction is an illness, a disease, a choice, or a wicked twist of fate?
A. Addiction is all of those things in one deadly combination however I choose to specifically think of it as and call it a disease. 

Q. What are five things you always carry with you?
A. Mascara, lip gloss, a love note from Trevis (my boyfriend), my iPhone, and a little white paper with the AA promises on it.

Q. Is there a favorite “Quote” you would like to share?
A. My Dad always tells me, “Happiness is a mode of travel, not a final destination.” Happiness is a state of mind and a perspective. If you expect to be happy once you’ve attained something, you will most likely miss the entire experience of happiness. This quote reminds me to live in the moment and always in gratitude.

Q. Who would your favorite mentor be, dead or alive?
A. My uncle, Jerry Heller. He was one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. He was a true friend and loved me unconditionally. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2016. If you ever get a chance to read his book, Ruthless: A Memoir, I recommend it. 

Q. Who is your FAVORITE Psychologist or what school of thought as related to psychology?
A: Positive psychology interests me most. The fact that it focuses on strengths instead of weakness and drives people and organizations (when applied in a work environment) to maximize their potential really appeals to me. 

Q. Do you think clients in residential rehab should have access to their cell phones, and why?
A. At some point in their treatment, yes, but not to carry with them 24/7. Especially if they are in a treatment phase which includes obtaining employment, they will need to use their own cell phone. I firmly believe clients should have at least one session with their counselor in which the client’s cell phone is purged of contacts and apps that are not conducive to the client’s recovery, as an approach to relapse prevention. The fact is that it’s 2020 and mobile devices, especially cell phones, have become a huge part of our lives. For people in recovery, learning to use these devices in a healthier way is a factor in maintaining sobriety.