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  • Sean McFarland

Why I Started Shell Avenue


Sean McFarland of Venice sober living

My name is Sean McFarland. I’m 57 years old.

I live and reside in Santa Monica, California. I'm operator and owner of Shell Avenue which is a private therapeutic recovery center that I've been running since 2001.

I'm a sex addict, I'm a love addict, I'm an ex-con, I'm a trauma survivor, a grifter, a dreamer, a hope-a-holic.

I'm Ferris Bueller. I'm the sad clown. I’m the father to Dylan McFarland.


And you know what? I kind of like myself.


But it wasn’t always that way.

I believe that we can always change the narrative. “No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others”, as the founding father of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, said.

Why Do I Do This Work?


Because it's inside me, because I have no other choice and mostly, because I wake up every day energized to give back.


I'm not a studied man. What I know they don't teach you at Yale University. I can't recite the DSM-V. But I can smell and see it. I can touch it.


And the thing about the DSM five is that has one hundred and eighty or so pathologies diagnosed and yet, in my humble opinion, it fails to do justice to the totality of the person. You could have two people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or an addiction disorder, and both would require vastly different treatment plans. Nobody's knocking the power of medication to help people with their mental health issues, but there's a lot more to it than a prescription. In my experience a lot of our problems can be whittled down to just a few simple things.


  1. Pain - Whatever it is or wherever it comes from, a pain drives addiction. It could be trauma - acute, chronic, or inter-generational.

  2. Unmet Attachment Needs - the primary, template relationships with our caregivers are instrumental to our development of safety, peace of mind and autonomy. A weak link in those primordial relationships affects all future existential and interpersonal coping styles, often leading people into maladaptive coping mechanisms and clouded perceptions.

  3. Societal Shame & Judgment - although it varies across the world, we're not all that adept at talking about our pain and asking for help. There's a fear that we'll be judged for giving airtime to our thoughts, feelings, inclinations. In addiction especially most addicts think they're low-lives until they encounter other addicts and realize they're not all that unique (in a good way!).

  4. Self-Concept Narratives & Self-Love - we all tell ourselves stories and they don't always serve us. It might be: "I'm the victim of abuse", "my parents weren't there for me", "I got dealt a bad hand", or even "I'm amazing, I don't need anyone else's help." Whatever the story is, it impacts how we think about ourselves in relation to others and ourselves. If we don't like who we see in the mirror, our lives will likely run on the fuel of validation by external people, places and things. We need someone or something else to tell us we're ok.

From Sobriety to Opening a Sober Living


I got the gift of sobriety at twenty-two in Arizona. At the time, some of the greats in the recovery business - Dr. Patrick Carnes, John Bradshaw, Melody Beattie, Bob Earl. They were all workshopping and researching their work.


The kinds of people I see come through my doors - whether staying in our sober living, attending our AA or SLAA meetings, receiving executive and corporate culture coaching, or receiving individual/couples/family coaching - are people whose GPS is misdirected. People who are scared and looking for answers. People who aren’t even sure what the right questions are.


Shell Avenue as the Sun Rises
Shell Avenue as the Sun Rises

I see people who are dying of shame, people that need a hug, people that need to hear themselves say it's not that bad and, of course, people for whom it is that bad.

I see people who have guns sitting in a drawer back at home and I see people who fill stadiums, arenas, movie theaters. Sometimes they’re one and the same.


And some of those people, no matter how big their names, can’t even walk into a restaurant without needing to hold my hand to feel comfortable.



Sean McFarland and Mike Tyson
Sean McFarland & Mike Tyson


I'm the one that people call when they’re planning to end it all. I'm the one that explains to the children that their daddy and mommy overdosed. I'm the one that officiates weddings. I’m the one who sends a text at seven a.m. to remind them what their primary purpose is, how special they are and how much I appreciate them.

I’m the one who says if you don't figure this out you're going to die very soon I'm the one that says absolutely you can do this.

I am all these things because at some point in my past someone else was that for me. Because a whole bunch of people loved me until I could learn to love myself.

What Makes Shell So Special?


If you were to ask my clients what makes coming into Shell so special, I think one of the things that they’d say is the way I actively listen. Sure, we have these amazing villas out back for the sober living residents, an incredible fellowship that shows up for our AA and SLAA meetings and a lot more, but the only way I've managed to build this to where it is now is because I learned how to listen in my sobriety. Sometimes helping others isn't done by talking or trying to fix. It happens with open ears.

I listen from the heart. I listen from a place where they don’t feel judged. They understand it's just like a real conversation. Not like a lot of therapists where it seems a little cold or has an agenda.


A lot of people are used to listening from their ears, but the key is listening from your heart.


Because behind every Instagram post, every outfit, every smile, every tendered transaction, there's a whole underground life going on. A life that most people don't talk about and that’s the thing that's holding them back.

And this underground life that you really need to listen for isn’t like those nice smoky jazz clubs in the West Village of New York in the 1950s. This is a different kind of underground life. This isn't Coltrane on stage, this is Coltrane all whacked-out on the apartment floor with a needle in his arm.


This underground life is the moment when you realize that your seven million Instagram followers is all illusion and that not a single one of them know you at all.

It’s the moment where you break through the persona you've spent so long curating only to find a hollow shell and little child desperate to cry, to be held, to come out and play.


I see a lot of people who are haunted and the one thing that unites them all is that they want to change.


I've been blessed to have accumulated a lot of experience and human data over some twenty years living and working in the trenches.

The work I do is based on a principle that has kept me alive: if I can help one other person then my life is the better for it. I am the better for it.