New view, new you

As the Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy group begins its sixth year in Dunkirk coordinator Mike Tramuta is eager to share some of the principles that have helped the members. Over 1,000 people have come through the doors.

“I want the best for them,” he said. “People get sick, but they get better.”

His literature explains, “The idea is to regain control of our minds, hearts, bodies and souls by changing our thinking process! When you learn to change the working visualization of any problem, you quickly realize that there are many alternatives or varied ways of dealing with these issues. No problem is terrible, awful or bad; unfortunate maybe, unpleasant yes, untimely, more than likely, but not insurmountable! You can’t calm the Storm, so stop trying! What you can do is Calm Yourself. The Storm will pass!”

The REBT philosophy was developed by Albert Ellis in the 1950’s. Tramuta received training at the Ellis Institute. A counselor at Tri-County’s chemical dependency unit when the flood destroyed the hospital in 2009, Tramuta was keenly aware of the impact of the loss of the program.

He talked to Father David Bellittiere, the pastor of Holy Trinity at the time. Father Bellittiere agreed to give the group a chance, and Father Joseph Zalacca, the current pastor, is also supportive. Attendance now averages 30-50 people per meeting. Sometimes, there are as many as 50. Weather tends to be a factor, as many of the participants walk to the site.

Tramuta also worked at the Cazenovia Recovery System’s residence “Caz Manor” and the TLC Chemical Dependency treatment program in Cassadaga. “We did something that worked,” he explained. He said that there had initially been great resistance to the Caz Manor establishment, but as the community became aware of the positive changes, the neighborhood became supportive.

Tramuta has worked with sports programs through the years, and uses many sports analogies. “I bring a lot of coaching stuff in,” he said.
He said that in the game of golf, people can have several good holes, but decide to give up if they reach a hole and go over par. “They don’t give themselves a chance to see that they can come right back with an eagle or a birdie.”

“You learn more form losses than wins. It shows you what you need to do,” he added.

He discussed the importance of identifying triggers. “How did you relapse? Trace the cause,” he said “It’s a cunning disease—addiction will wait for you.”

One of his group members, Rodney, had been coming for 9 months. Rodney has 12 years of sobriety, with one relapse. He was able to identify reasons for the relapse, including not going to meetings, not staying away from users. Rodney discussed a number of recent stressful situations, as well as PTSD.

“When there’s no vision, the only vision is to get out of poverty through any means,” he said.

He has written a book about his experiences and insights and is seeking a publisher.

Lewis another group member, is a veteran of Iraq. He said that triggers from his earlier life events had heightened the PTSD from his war experiences. He has also written a book which can be purchased online. He discussed his search for assistance in dealing with his issues. “It’s resourcing,” he said. “I go everywhere and get everything I can. The more resources, the better off you are.”

Tramuta said that the REBT meetings always end at 8 p.m. “A lot of times, they’ll go to a twelve-step meeting from here,” he added. Some people are mandated to attend meetings. “I have a couple from drug court, “he said.

“We’re not in competition with anybody.” Tramuta noted. “It’s all ammunition for the fight. It’s good that they go AA, however, they do need to deal with anger, rage, guilt, shame, anxiety, depression and fear, too. We also talk about other issues, like relationships.”

Tramuta is willing to provide information to help deal with other specific concerns, i.e. grief or gambling. He said that he will also make referrals to Gamblers’ Anonymous or the treatment program at the Jewish Family Service of Buffalo Gambling Recovery Program.

He said the group is “motivational, not just addiction.”

Much of the success of the program is due to word of mouth. He said that there is a big problem in this area with substances.

“It’s the society we live in,” Tramuta commented. People need to be ready to benefit from REBT, or any other program. “You make up your mind when you’ve had enough.” Tramuta said.

He said that he’s never had to ask anyone to leave the group. He continues to hear from people who have moved out of the area, letting him know that they are still sober. “It’s beyond my expectations.” He said.

Tramuta is candid regarding his own struggles through the years. People obviously relate to him as a knowledgeable role model. He said, “I’ll teach them how to be their own counselor and let them run with it.”

He talked about emotions. “We’re doing mental health stuff,” he explained. “It’s OK to get angry as long as you know what you’re angry about and don’t stay there. There’s a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is you made a mistake. Shame is you are a mistake. If you feel full of shame, it’s like you’ll never get over this. It’s your thinking about what happened. I know there’s a group of winners trying to be a little better today and to move forward.”

Tramuta said that the goals are treatment-centered. He plans a week in advance. Sometimes he uses worksheets. He said they will do them in group, and he collects them. “We have to do little things, the groundwork. We give thanks and move on, it’s about changing irrational thinking and moving on. We change behavior by changing thinking. You may do bad things, but you’re not a bad person. It helps to reinforce the positive. It’s not all about the struggle. What’s good in your life, too?”

The meeting itself follows a standard format. Tramuta begins by asking if there are any issues, problems, or concerns. Nancy had brought several calendars to the meeting and invited the others to take them.

“This isn’t a calendar.” She said, “It’s a blueprint.” Start fresh and new. Let all the pain go.” She credited a pastor with the advice. Many of those around the table nodded in agreement, and reached out to take one.

Tramuta transitioned into a discussion about life traps. He explained that people bring issues from their family of origin into their family of creation (relationships.) He discussed roles, such as the hero of the family, and tools, such as denial. Rodney said, “We’re breaking generational patterns.”

It was noted that people tend to love to rate their own worth and the worth of others, but supporters can’t buy success for their loved ones. A group member asked, “What’s the total net worth of Gandhi and Mother Teresa?” Those in attendance agreed that was an excellent point.

Several members wanted to express what the REBT experience means to them. Ken said “There are 6 steps. You’re reinventing yourself. It’s a nuts and bolts approach. What are ways that I can think and act differently?”

Kenny added, “I like to be spoon-fed. It teaches why I think the way I do, why I react the way I do. I separate what’s right from what isn’t. I learn what’s right at AA and why it’s right here. I need this program.”

Nancy’s gaze met Mike Tramuta’s as she said “I get hope. I look at you and get hope.”

Confidentiality is maintained in the group. People who choose to identify themselves use first names. Attendees are not require to speak. The REBT group meets Thursday evenings from 7-8 p.m. at the Holy Trinity parish center on Central Avenue in Dunkirk. The program is open to the public and free of charge.

The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.