What do you say to someone who’s hurting?

What do you say to someone who’s hurting?

In the wake of the tragic wildfires, I am a bundle of mixed emotions. Me and my family were spared from major loss, but thousands of others were not. At last count over 7,000 homes and businesses were destroyed. Over 43 are dead. Many families lost everything.

In many respects, we are all hurting from this.  How do we process our feelings? How do we cope?

I’m not a psychologist nor a counselor and therefore I am not qualified to give any specific advice.

I do however, know that I have to process my own emotions and do what I can to help those who need it.

Here’s what I can offer:

  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Listening

Offering food, clothing, shelter and financial support are also helpful.

Yet even then, I am left with a sense of grief. How would I handle it if I lost everything? I don’t know.

A couple things that have always helped me in past personal crises are writing— journaling about my thoughts, and emotions, talking with others, counseling, and trying to offer help to others.

I was given two opportunities to talk with people in the midst of these devastating fires.

Last Saturday I had a book signing at Barnes and Noble. In some ways, it felt selfish to promote my book, but I quickly realized that I was there for another purpose—to offer encouragement and guidance to those who had family members suffering from drug and alcohol addiction and also to offer encouragement about the fires. I was able to listen to their stories and offer suggestions. Many of them also bought my book. Beyond Recovery: A Journey of Grace, Love, and Forgiveness.


Two days later on Monday, I was scheduled to do my first live radio interview by phone on KZSB – 1290 AM in Santa Barbara. It was largely unscripted and conversational. Granted, I had a framework for the program including talking about the fires, ways people can help, and, of course, my recovery journey as it related to my book.

The interviewers, Ed Giron and Maria Long were both gracious and kind and asked some really good questions. Ed at one point asked me what advice I would have for those that don’t think they are ready to stop drinking or using drugs and a follow up question about what I would suggest for those who really don’t think they have a problem. I paused before answering.

You see, my experience has been that sometimes we may think we are ready to stop drinking, using, overeating,etc… and may  even go to a meeting or seek counsel, only to return to our old addictive behavior(s). Other times, we feel we still have control and therefore have no need for any solution. If you want to learn more, you can listen to the whole interview here:

In summary, I suggested that for those who don’t think they have a problem with food, drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, etc., —they may not. However, if they are causing an individual pain and affecting their relationships they may want to seek help. In response to Ed’s question about those who think they may have a problem but are not yet ready to change or seek help, I expanded a bit more but, in a nut shell said that the first step is admitting that one has a problem. Then an individual can follow the 12 steps or work with a counselor or another program to find a solution.

The bottom line though, for me and millions of others, is that the solution must come from a power greater than ourselves. We are not God. And no matter how much we think we are in control, ultimately, we are not.

That brings me back to the current state of my emotional and spiritual development. I rely on prayer and meditation to help me stay centered. I have a sense of faith. I call my higher power God. I have witnessed hundreds of miracles in my short lifetime and trust that even in the wake of these horrific fires that most of us will survive. In some respects, we have become closer as a larger community and stronger because of them. That is not to placate, minimize, or sweep away the pain they inflicted.

My heart goes out to all who lost it all. I too have lost so much in my life—jobs, health, brother, family, broken relationships. In the midst of it all, I always found hope.

My prayer for all is that we find the courage to process our emotions and continue to grow in love and kindness for each other. May we become more unified as families, community, country, and world. May we realize that we are truly never alone. That at the end of the tunnel there is always light.

Shell Beach - Pebble Beach Trail Inverness, CA

Shell Beach – Pebble Beach Trail Inverness, CA



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Finding Serenity Amidst Chaos

Northern California continues to be pummeled by wildfires. The wake of destruction is taking a toll.  As of today, 36 have been killed; 5,700 homes and business have been destroyed. The fires have burned more than 212,000 acres. Families have lost so much. Many, including my in-laws, have had to evacuate since early in the morning on October 9. Just this morning, residents in northeast Santa Rosa were awakened before dawn by the blaring of fire engine sirens and told to evacuate immediately.

Reporters at the Marin IJ and hundreds of news outlets including my wife and her team at the Press Democrat, have spent countless hours sifting through the updates to keep the public informed. Our city and local police and sheriffs have done a great job of notifying the public immediately through Nixel alerts.( text 888777 and enter your zip code) Our Councilman Mike Harris shared these numbers from county Supervisor David Rabbitt

Tubbs Fire 34,770-25% contained
Pocket Fire 9,996-5% contained
Nuns Fire 44,381- 5% contained
Presley Fire 473- 10% contained
Total acreage 89,620

Expected Full Containment 10/20/17

Pocket Fire active overnight burning in southern and eastern edges

Tubbs burning on northern and eastern edges

Nuns and Presley burning in heavier fuels

272 Engines
29 water tenders
12 helicopters
6 air tankers
62 hand crews
23 bulldozers
2,333 personnel

Fire fighters and Police officers from all of California have pulled together to protect people, homes, and attempt to contain the growing inferno.

Thousands of businesses and volunteers have donated food bedding, clothing and supplies to local evacuation shelters.

There is connection, compassion, and care unlike any I have ever experienced. The outpouring of support is amazing. So much so that some shelters have had to turn away volunteer help and donations.

Other churches, like Glide Memorial, have sent teams to serve at New Life Christian Fellowship in Petaluma and later in Napa.

There is a sense of unity among people. My family and me have been spared for now. Yet I still am trying to process all of this. It is too much to process 24-7.  Where do I help? How do I deal with my anxiety?

I turn to prayer. I try and find a quiet place to enjoy nature. I want to find a bit of quiet and tranquility among all this chaos. Then I feel guilty, like I should be helping someone, serving others. I have my own facemask. And have others for the family.

Yesterday I needed to find a bit of solitude and also wanted to see if I could get to my in-laws home to see whether it was still standing and to quiet my anxiety.  After driving by several roadblocks along Petaluma Hill Road, I landed at Howarth Park at the northern edge of Santa Rosa. Much of the area had already been evacuated the day before.  The parking lot was nearly empty. It was like a ghost town.

I snapped a few photos to capture the still lake. Several miles northeast the fire blazed on. But for a moment, I felt calm. It was eerie.  A lone man sat in a canoe on the glassy lake, fishing.


Howarth Park

Lone man on Lake – Howarth Park 10-13-17


I then wanted to see how far northeast I could go. I drove along the heavily wooded road along Spring Lake. It looked like an oak-studded tunnel. I worried that if the fire were to come down this road could quickly become a fire tube gaining momentum as it raced toward more homes and businesses.  I reached the end of the road at Highway 12 and Melita Road, then looped back down highway 12 past Calistoga Road and stopped to snap a shot of the famous Flamingo Hotel. I wanted a shot for my wife and family, just in case.

Flaimngo Hotel, Sant Rosa CA

The air was still, as if a calm before the next fire storm. The hotel had already been evacuated.

Then this morning I saw the Nixel alert that that very area was being evacuated at the crack of dawn.

My heart goes out to all. We will get through this.  I am glad that I took a moment to pause and be grateful that I was alive—that our family and home was safe for the time being.

I encourage everyone to pause, if you can, and take a moment to be grateful to be alive. Take a moment to get outside to a calm area—to give yourself a break from the turmoil. It was healing for me. Yet tensions persist. I snapped at my wife on our anniversary. We made up. I need to be cognizant and mindful that we all are in this together. I have no idea what others are experiencing. Yet, for me, a little serenity in the midst of chaos can do wonders for my soul.

In 1987, while processing my own inner chaos during my first year of recovery, I wrote this poem.



Serenity is soft like a warm summer breeze

Serenity is the warmth of a fire on a cold winters day

Serenity smells like the blossoms of spring

Serenity is radiant like the setting sun

Serenity is peace when we are alone

Serenity has a place in my heart and my home

Serenity is a friendly smile when we feel blue

Serenity is acceptance of things as they are

Serenity is a phone call from a friend afar

Serenity is love of myself and my friends

Serenity is a feeling that doesn’t have to end


May God bless and protect us all as we go through this together.

Love, Shawn

For more insights on serenity and life, please visit https://shawnlangwell.com/

“Be the change you desire…

They say I’m a dreamer… I’m not the only one…

I love Steve Jobs quote, ”The people crazy enough to think they can change the world are usually the ones who do.”

I believe it. Do you? I’ve seen it happen so many times already in my lifetime.  Someone comes up with a new way to put together things and suddenly we have new industries, new ways of communicating, new ways of travel.

What will be the next big paradigm shift in our world? Who knows? One keeps coming up for me that I am very passionate about.

It’s not new. In fact, it has been around since the dawn of our existence. It is not unique to man either. Before humans inhabited the earth, this powerful force was alive and well. It touched every living creature on the planet in some way. It is something that people will die for. It has the capacity to change someone’s life forever or when withheld, destroy it. It is free which would lead one to believe that it was ubiquitous, but sadly, it is not.

I, like many of those around the world have been at odds with each other over values, opinions, ideals, religion, race, and politics for far too long.

There is something that can wipe away pain, dissension, hate, judgment, and prejudice. Virtually all of us have the solution in us already, sometimes though we don’t use it. Instead we would rather be right or on one side or the other.  We all have the capacity to love.

How hard is it to be kind? How hard is it to love another even if you disagree with their opinion? Would you no longer love your wife or child if they didn’t agree with you? What if they had different values, beliefs, religions than you? What would you do? Would you love them anyway? Why then is it increasingly difficult to do our own part of loving one another? If you stopped to think about it, if we all loved each other, there would be no more war. There would be no more famine. There would be no more hate or prejudice. No, what I am suggesting though, is that the blame has to stop. It’s time each of us steps up and takes personal responsibility to be a little more loving.

All we need is love.

Each of us has within ourselves the capacity to love another human being. Yes, it is a choice. I am not saying that we need to like everyone or even agree. But, for crying-out-loud, embrace our differences!  We are all unique creations with a purpose. I seriously doubt our true purpose in this brief time on planet earth is to tear down each other and consume as much as we possibly can before it’s all gone.


There is more than enough for all. Some of us have been blessed with more resources than others. We all have a virtually unlimited capacity for love and kindness.  Unfortunately, like muscles, they need to be exercised.

I have done my best not to engage in the slamming of one side or another especially on Facebook. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the fear and hate that is being spread on media like a California Wildfire. We all have choices. We all have our values, morals, ethics, beliefs, and opinions. I am not advocating that we all become yes men and women. I am advocating though, that we need to practice a little more kindness, empathy, and love toward one another.

After reading a couple friends rants and posts on Facebook recently I started to get angry. Rather than engage in the polarized, virtual, not face-to-face dialogue that was only going to go around in circles I posted this instead—

“Be the change you desire— spreading hate just fuels the fire.
Try instead, if we might, to live in peace, harmony, and light.
To love and be loved no fear, no spite.”

Kiss your babies if you got em.  And hold the door open once in awhile.

Love a little more, you’ll feel better, I guarantee it.
Hey, if we all got along a little better we could change the world!

Who wants to prove Steve Jobs right?

Shawn Langwell

To hear more listen to recent interview here: Langwell Interview 7-14-17




Thirty years ago I began a journey of healing-one that would forever change the outcome of my life. I made a decision to stop drinking and seek help.

Before any problem can be solved it needs to be identified. At the ripe age of twenty-two I succumbed to the fact that I was powerless over alcohol and drugs; of my own will power I could not control my consumption, no matter how hard I tried. Continue reading