Addiction Recovery and the Journey Home
How often throughout the day do you notice you’ve gone on autopilot? How often do you find yourself doing something that isn’t good for you, that you don’t want to do, and don’t have to do, and yet find it hard not to do – like scrolling IG, or checking Facebook for the millionth time, or mindlessly over-snacking? We all sometimes engage in addictive or compulsive behaviors of some kind. How could we not? We’re surrounded by messages that we “must have” things – along with the underlying message that we’re incomplete as we are. Who wouldn’t wanna check out? This is where a focus on addiction recovery comes in.
In recent years, I’ve thought a lot about addiction, and what some have called its opposite: connection. As the spiritual director of two addiction recovery programs, I’ve seen how substances and addictions can cut people off. I’ve also seen, and helped guide, people as they journey home – a journey that I believe is woven by connections to three elements in particular: one’s own embodied experience, heart-connection to others, and connection to Source, or an energetic force greater than oneself, however that is personally defined.
Anthropologists studying all kinds of rites of passage around the globe have described most of them as having three basic phases: the separation phase, when someone “cuts away” from their former self, deciding to leave life as they know it behind. Next is the liminal phase. This is a state in-between worlds, a place of rocky, unfamiliar terrain, of disorientation and despair, where nothing is what it used to be. Finally, people reach the reincorporation phase. This is when they come home to themselves and to the world, leaving their isolation behind and reintegrating into the world as a new, changed being.
Addiction Recovery and Spiritual Ritual
Recovery from drug and alcohol addiction can feel like this – the shedding of old skin, followed by the pain and rawness of exposure, and then a process of coming back home, learning how to get comfortable in one’s own skin. This process is not easy. Finding a pathway to faith, trust, and connection to something larger than one’s self and ego, is crucial to overcoming the confusion and anguish of the in-between stage.
Our busy, secular world often forgets or ignores the vital healing role that spiritual ritual has played for thousands of years, in grounding human beings and normalizing the chaos, pain, and uncertainty of life. Across the globe, spiritual rituals have been used to dramatize these processes to help people weather the storms of life by connecting to spirit, to community, and to their deepest voices of resilience.
Over 20 years of deep exploration of yogic, meditation, and Native American traditions, I’ve evolved certain practices that keep me rooted, whole, and connected to spirit. I live and breathe them on a daily basis – and they are indispensable to my spiritual and everyday life, especially in times of great disruption or pain. The 7 Foundations™ program is a distillation of those practices, inspired by my Native American elders and the Native American medicine wheel. The Medicine Wheel has become my soul map, bridging the spiritual realm and physical plane.
Each of the 7 Foundations is inspired by the symbolism and directions of the Native American Medicine Wheel. Medicine Wheels were physical monuments created by many Native tribes as sites for sacred ceremony, prayer, and vision quests, and meant as physical manifestations of spiritual energy. They represented the never-ending cycles of life – of birth, death, and rebirth, and were wheels of protection, enabling tribe members to gather surrounding energies into a focal point and to commune with spirit, self, and nature.
The wheel was meant a reflection of the togetherness of community, of symmetry, and balance – and also of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. It gave people guidelines to follow for personal growth. It told people what they needed to learn and what they needed to teach. I share the 7 Foundations here in the spirit of that togetherness.
Foundation 1. Discover Your Ground: Creating Sacred Space
This tradition has been a rich guide in my work in addiction recovery. In the Native American Medicine Wheel, the first of the seven directions is the East, where the sun rises, representing new beginnings. The First Foundation represents this new beginning – a new beginning you can see, sense, and touch into. The East is also associated with the Spring, a time of planting and rebirth, and of second chances. The Medicine Wheel is itself sacred space, and so it only makes sense that we start with creating our space – because without the space, where would we start?
The essence of the spiritually-based journey of recovery is opening one’s life to the presence of spirit, to an experience of the sacred. This might seem sort of abstract – something one is supposed think about, or feel. In my experience, the first step to bringing home the sacred begins with creating physical space for sacredness in the places one inhabits, and in one’s body, beginning with grounding breathing practices.
For many people struggling with addiction or suffering from deep pain, growing up, home may not have been a safe place, emotionally or physically. Studies have shown that the more clutter there is in a space, the harder it is for people to concentrate, because the brain’s visual cortex gets overstimulated.
Creating sacred space is a process of letting go of things that no longer serve, and inviting safety, healing, and calm into one’s environment, in order to connect with spirit, and free oneself from the pressures and worries of everyday life. We return to this practice to remember that our souls are always here, ready to be reflected. Sacred space is meant to be an anchor you check in with on a daily basis, a means with which you can return home to your own soul.
Foundation 2. The Journey of Intention.
Once the clutter and distractions are gone and the space is cleared, one can begin anew, dream anew, set forth from a place of greater clarity and order.
The Second Foundation is about bringing one’s soul’s longing into conscious awareness, and establishing intention-setting as a regular practice. Learning to set intentions can turn life from an unconscious carpet ride to one in which we are steering the ship. We may not be able to control the waters, the weather, or the other people along for the ride, but we are able to make choices in the face of changing circumstances, whether those choices are things we do or ways of seeing the world and circumstances around us. The journey of intention is a journey that invites us into gratitude for what is, and mindfulness of our essential freedom.
The Second Foundation is inspired by the second direction in the Wheel – the South. The South is most often associated with the flowing of emotions. If the First Foundation and the first direction is about birth, the Second Foundation symbolizes our inner child, including the wounds that afflicted that child, and the rediscovery of child-like wonder.
In the 7 Foundations, intention setting is about pausing, getting quiet, and learning to listen to the call of the inner child. When we hear them, we hold space for and honor our deepest needs and longings.
Foundation 3. Awakening Insight: The Blindfold.
In the Native American Medicine Wheel, the third direction is the West, where the sun sets, and darkness falls.
In most shamanic traditions, the nighttime is both a setting and a metaphor for the spiritual journey. In the darkness of night, one literally can’t see the way forward, or make out the dangers lurking around. The mind, doing its best to protect us, fills in the blanks with potential terrors to keep us alert and ready to spring into action. Our senses heighten. We become extremely aware.
When we feel like we’re emotionally, spiritually, mentally “in the dark”, the discomfort of the unknown can be overwhelming, and what we often do is turn to habits that have us checking out or numbing – whether it’s alcohol or drugs, or the phone, or food, or shopping, or a desperate sense that we need other people to fill the void.
When we react this way, we forget that darkness has gifts to give.
Darkness offers a Gift of Freedom
The Third Foundation, the Blindfold, invites us into darkness, to help us free ourselves from the constraints of the ego, to face our fears, and learn to develop trust in our intuition.
The Blindfold compels us to face the unknown – and to find the anchors within ourselves. As we let go of control over how others think of us, we are invited to dance with those parts of ourselves that are uncomfortable or painful; parts that are shamed as wrong or unacceptable. These shadow parts become our dance partners. Our intuition becomes our guide. As our physical eyes are closed, our third eye can open, gifting us with visions of deep, innate wisdom, and a sense of the magic that is possible.
Foundation 4. Breathing Life.
The Fourth foundation is perhaps the one used most often: the breath. Our breath – its rhythm, its ease or difficulty, can give us a clear signal of the balance or imbalance within. Remarkably, we can also harness the breath to help regulate our inner world and find balance. Among many benefits, breathing exercises have been shown to improve the immune system, improve sleep, and reduce the symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit disorder. As a profound tool for getting into one’s body, it’s also a profound way of connecting with Spirit.
Foundation 5. The Rhythms of Your Life.
The Fifth foundation is about harnessing the power of hearing, both for energetic healing and in order to listen deeply to the song of one’s soul. Humans have been using the power of vibrational sound to heal for tens of thousands of years. Sensitizing ourselves to the power of sound opens up new pathways of communication to our deepest intentions and dreams.
Psychologically, the mind itself can be full of “noise” – made even noisier when we’re in the presence of voices of despair, unworthiness, anxiety, or addiction. The fifth foundation is about quieting this noise and literally tuning into a higher vibration – and a more harmonic state of being.
In the Medicine Wheel, the fifth direction is Above – symbolized by Father Sky. The Sky represents infinite possibilities, allowing you to get in touch with an infinite space within you. When you tune into the song of your soul, you expand. You dream big.
Foundation 6. Dance of Liberation™
You could call the Medicine Wheel a divine dance floor. Traditionally, it’s sometimes referred to as the Sun Dance Circle – the Sun Dance being the most vital ceremony of the Great Plains Indians. The Sun Dance experience embodies a continuity between life and death – and a regeneration of spiritual oneness with the Great Spirit.
The 6th Foundation, the Dance of Liberation™, is also a prayer in motion.
Dance is movement – another word for change. Dancing free one to have a sense of the physical experience of living in a constant state of change – and of this change as an essential part of what it is to be alive.
The Benefits of Dance
Dance invites one to get grounded, to sense energy and emotion in the body, and to play with these energies in new and curious ways. In the Seven Foundations, dance serves as a way of expressing and honoring the spirit, while also becoming a means of communication with difficult and marginalized parts of the self – the shadows – in order to befriend them. Dance becomes a way of processing pain and trauma and releasing them through the body.
In the Medicine Wheel, the 6th Direction is Mother Earth. The Dance of Liberation™, is also a dance of unification – the marriage between the divine feminine and divine masculine inside of us. Dancing has a unique way of inviting these parts of us to speak to each other and to merge into one. We invite rounded curves and sharp lines, gentleness and force, flexibility and rigidity, to seamlessly coexist, calling us to a state of wholeness. The 6th Foundation prepares us to return home.
Foundation 7. Returning Home: Integration and Joyful Service.
The Seventh Foundation brings us to the final direction of the Medicine Wheel: the center, where the physical and spiritual you resides. We are striving to do more than find balance and connection between our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual selves. We are also building a connection between what was, what is, and what will be. Acts of compassion and service can become a way for us to connect with gratitude, and experience feelings of meaning, purpose, and our own direction.
This interdependence and interconnectedness is in many ways the cornerstone of spiritual practice.
The Seventh Foundation is about introducing acts of compassion and service into recovery and healing and integrating new awareness into daily life. Acts of service are crucial for many people struggling to flip the script in the story of their problems. The interdependence and interconnectedness of service is in many ways the cornerstone of spiritual practice.
Holistic Addiction Recovery Institute – Discovery Weekend
Led by Parashakti and Dr. Andrew Tatarsky
The Holistic Addiction Recovery Discovery Weekend is sponsored by the Center for Optimal Living, founded and directed by Dr. Andrew Tatarsky who will co-lead the program.
The Center for Optimal Living offers comprehensive treatment for problematic substance use, trauma and mental health issues. The center provides innovative, personalized treatment, based on Integrative Harm Reduction Psychotherapy, for individuals and families with substance use issues, other risky or addictive behaviors, and a wide range of mental health issues. centerforoptimalliving.com
A Two-Day Workshop
Saturday – Sunday, June 22 & 23, 2019, 10:00 am – 5:30 pm
$425 (Members & Nonmembers)