Helping others on the path to recovery

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Andrew Assini checks the fit of his door sign, before installing the clear plastic sheet while setting up his own addiction treatment practice in Glassboro December 29, 2014. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )

Sitting in a Florida jail after being charged with drunken driving, Andrew J. Assini had no one to call and no one to blame. He was 24.

"I realized," he recalls, "that maybe I had some part in the never-ending calamity that was my life. I realized, 'Something has to change here.' It was the end of the road."

Since then, nine clean and sober years - and a continuing spiritual quest - have helped Assini replace calamities with accomplishments.

The Deptford resident, 33, has earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at Rowan University, where he's an instructor in the psychology department. He also has been licensed by the state as a clinical alcohol and drug counselor.

Come January, Assini plans to launch Samma Vayama Well-Being, an outpatient addiction treatment service in Glassboro.

In English, Samma Vayama means right effort (as in, "make the"), useful advice for recovering alcoholics (trust me on that one) or addicts.

Assini says he plans to blend yoga, meditation, mindfulness and other Eastern-inspired practices with traditional group therapy and 12-Step recovery principles.

The goal, he adds, "is to heal body, mind, and spirit."

All three had been damaged in the young man who ended up in that Florida jail cell in May 2005.

Assini grew up in East Brunswick, Middlesex County, playing baseball and doing well in school. But he felt he didn't fit in, and in high school tried to do so by drinking beer and smoking weed.

He graduated to hallucinogens in college, where a friend had "a freezer full of LSD." He dropped out (before flunking out) and for several years bounced aimlessly among dead-end jobs.

Then came the DUI charge in Florida, and the overnight stay "in an orange jumpsuit," Assini says. The charge eventually was downgraded to reckless driving. Back in New Jersey, Assini paid his fine and began seeing a therapist who shared his interest in Eastern philosophies.

"He said that if I would go to 12-Step meetings and get a year clean, he would introduce me to people of the path" of enlightenment, Assini recalls.

"I thought he was going to introduce me to all these Buddhist monks. After about nine months I realized that the people going to meetings, the people around me, were of the path. They were trying to get better, to find a better way of life."

At Rowan, Assini met associate psychology professor D.J. Angelone, a Mullica Hill resident who became a mentor and is now a colleague as well as a friend.

"Eastern philosophy is being infused in mainstream psychology and demonstrating some great success," Angelone says in an e-mail. "Drew has used these same techniques in his own sobriety, so he pulls from much personal experience."

The two are collaborating on research in Rowan's Clinical Mental Health Counseling program to better identify and assist clients who are likely to do well in 12-Step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

A willingness to work at it is a key. Assini continues to make spiritual pilgrimages - five weeks in India in 2012 and last summer, six weeks in Peru. He's also still involved in 12-Step recovery.

At Samma Vayama, "everybody involved in putting the place together is in recovery, or related to people in recovery," he says. "My mom and my aunt helped make the meditation cushions."

The logo is inspired by a tattoo on his right shoulder, which is accompanied by words to the effect that one "must earnestly practice," he adds.

"You've got to put in the effort. You have to do the work. Nobody else is going to save you. You have to work out your own salvation."

 


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