Mike Shaldone once worked in personal finance. Now he is an addiction therapist, yoga instructor and founder of Phoenix Wellness Center in Sacramento. (Photo courtesy of Mike Shaldone)

In Transition: From Hard Times to Healing

Mike Shaldone uses his own experience with alcoholism to help others

Back Web Only Oct 22, 2019 By Bethany Crouch

In 2003, Mike Shaldone was so broken down, he had to ask for help — admittedly, a practice not within his skill set, he says. He knew he needed to enter rehab to address his issues with alcoholism.

Although he left the three-month rehab program after only 17 days, he says his brief stay there offered some clarity: “I knew someday I’ll run a rehab. Someday I’ll do this for a living.”

It took  12 years for him to navigate his own personal challenges and transition from a job in corporate finance — he was vice president of his own brokerage firm — to what he calls his life’s work: serving people in their healing journeys. 

Shaldone says he has gone from helping clients expand their financial portfolios to helping clients expand their consciousness. Alcohol addiction, a serious car accident and spiritual awakenings ultimately led this trained engineer and financial planner to his new path. Today, Shaldone is an addiction therapist, yoga instructor, founder of Phoenix Wellness Center in Sacramento and cofounder of Village Health and Wellness Healers Collective opening next year in Roseville.

A Career and Life Unraveled

Shaldone’s professional life started in 1994 when he worked as an engineer for UPS — a job he says required constant travel. By 2001, he wanted to have more flexibility to coach his son’s Little League team. “I remember going to the UPS people and saying, ‘I don’t want to travel so much, I want to be there for my son.’” He says UPS told him no, and he didn’t fight that response: He was earning more than $200,000 a year and the corporate world, including all the travel, led him to a lifestyle of partying.

After leaving his job to start a personal finance firm, the lack of structure in Shaldone’s daily life proved detrimental, largely because he answered to no one but himself: “No one told me I couldn’t drink at 10 a.m., no one told me I couldn’t drink at noon, no one told me I couldn’t have five days off in a row if I wanted them.” 

Shaldone says he could bring in $20,000 in two days by working hard, then he could take the rest of the week to hide from his family and party in Reno. But it was during one of those midnight Reno runs in September 2002 that his addiction would finally become family knowledge after a DUI and terrible car accident. “I should have died in the crash.… I walked away with a scratch on my knee from my key,” he says. “All four windows blown out, all tires blown out. I spun on the freeway I don’t even know how many times.”   

The police arrested Shaldone, but he avoided jail time because it was his first DUI. Instead, he was ordered to perform community service and take classes. In the courtroom, he swore off alcohol forever. That promise didn’t stick — he had no idea where to turn for help. 

Shaldone’s drinking reached a boiling point on Labor Day in 2003, the day before his son’s first day of the first grade. He describes his drinking that day as eventually leading to the point of being black-out drunk at his office. He woke up  the next morning — still intoxicated — and rushed home to be part of the occasion. As he argued with his livid wife at the school, he remembers looking around to see all the normalcy, as the other happy families dropped off their children. He says he felt worthless. He drove to Reno and drank for three days until his younger brother tracked him down. 

Shaldone entered rehab a few days later; he left after a few weeks, believing he had been healed of his alcohol addiction after experiencing what he describes as a spiritual awakening. Out of rehab, he tried to distract himself from drinking by packing his schedule and running from work to his kids’ baseball league. “I was afraid of spare time,” he says. “I hadn’t gone through my recovery. I had just stopped using alcohol and had had a spiritual awakening.” Shaldone says he began self-medicating with business. He stayed sober for nine years until 2011, when  he started drinking again, following his divorce from his wife. 

During the next four years, he focused on his venture capital and investment business. In 2015, facing grave personal and financial meltdown, Shaldone went on a bender. He awoke from a long sleep and realized he needed help and that he wanted to be sober.

Mike Shaldone teaching a class on addiction. (Photo courtesy of Mike Shaldone)

Finding His Purpose

Whether a person is facing addiction or taking on personal growth, Shaldone says finding a path forward is part of a spiritual quest, and about “surrender of the ego. Humility. Letting go of self will in exchange for higher purpose.” This is an approach that he says has worked for him, specifically turning to mindfulness and yoga to assist in his recovery.

Shaldone believed he had found his higher purpose: helping people heal from addiction. But he resisted pursuing this goal because he didn’t have a clear plan. It wasn’t the same as starting a personal finance firm, and he had no idea how to start. A man Shaldone refers to as his guru posed a pivotal question: “Have you considered leaping and letting the universe figure (it) out?” 

In 2015, Shaldone made the decision to leave his career in finance for one centered around wellness and healing. In 2016, he partnered with Leo Hickman, owner of Classy Hippie Tea Co. in Sacramento, to offer mental health workshops to customers and to assist with the business’s finances. “He is a spirited healer grounded in experience and passionate about his work,” Hickman says. “(Shaldone’s) can-do attitude, willingness to jump in and experience has helped Classy Hippie raise money and stay active in the community for seven years.”

In January 2017, Shaldone launched Phoenix Wellness Center for addiction counseling, where he offers a holistic approach to recovery, something he describes as encompassing the “mind, body and spirit.  Mental, physical, emotional, spiritual … everything from cognitive behavior therapy to mindfulness (yoga and meditation) to health (diet and exercise planning).” 

Also in 2017, he interned at a methadone clinic and finished his yoga teacher training through Yoga Shala Arden, who sponsored him because the owners believe in his vision of marrying yoga and addiction counseling. Shaldone’s extended education as an addiction counselor certified through the state took him inside the world of homeless heroin addicts. Today, he also works full-time leading a men’s substance use disorder treatment group at Folsom Prison. “I make $19 per hour at Folsom Prison,” Shaldone says. “Most addiction counselors live on that, earning less than $40,000 per year. It’s a labor of passion to serve for all my peers.”  

Now, in partnership with Adam Puchar of Awakened Health, Shaldone is launching Village Health and Wellness Healers Collective in Roseville. With 20 office spaces and 7,700 square feet, the collaborative coworking facility will bring together like-minded practitioners to offer services such as acupuncture, massage, herbal medicine, Himalayan salt baths, reiki, yoga classes, nutrition advice and biofeedback diagnostics.

“I’m grateful,” Shaldone says of his life today. “I never would have known what I know now, which is my connection to spirit is the most important thing in my life. Not the money, the title, the house the job, none of that matters without having a connection to my light.”

Shaldone calls to mind a message from one of his top, most treasured books: Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning:” “When you’re suffering and you don’t know why, that’s painful. When you’re suffering and it has a purpose, it ceases to be suffering.” Shaldone says finding his purpose helps relieve his pain, and he is driven to help others reach that same peace.

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