THE FIX CHALLENGE: Join These Former Addicts in Seeking A Natural State
Our son was born in ’85. I cooled my act for a while. It was important for me to show up for my wife and son, while keeping impossible hours on the job and running my ways below the radar. Fortunately I was able to work a lot at home. I could also afford good wine and excellent herb, and I became expert at juggling family, work, and maintaining a buzz. Somewhere along the way I found God in a center divider coming home from an all-night poker game. The message was clear: something had to give. I checked into a popular aversion therapy program and threw up in a closet for ten days. That – and my first run with AA – bought me several years clean and sober.
My dad died suddenly in the winter of ’93. We were super close. I came back home from the hospital after a heart-crushing goodbye, walked behind the bar through the shocked looks of my family, pulled out that bottle of Cuervo Gold and announced: “I’m Irish. Irish people drink when their fathers die.” And so I did. For 11 months.
We rented a place in Tahoe for the holidays, our first Christmas without my dad. My whole family drank, and the party reached colossal proportions. Since I was maintaining the pretense of being sober, I was the designated driver. How many times did I drive my family up and down those icy mountain roads, open bottle under the seat, pockets bulging with Binaca and Breath Savers? Somehow, I got everybody on their planes, packed up my Jeep and headed out of Dodge.
Cruising back though Stateline, I made a quick right turn into Harrah’s Casino to play a few hands of Blackjack. I wound up staying for three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, on a wild, spun-out winning streak. Somewhere in there I called my wife, about a day and a half after I had told her I was heading home. She already had the cops searching for me. The morning of my departure, I was sick, wrecked, beyond salvage. It took about six white Russians before I was steady enough to drive.
I had my moment of clarity upside-down on 395. Swerved into a right hand sweeper, ran up on the embankment, flipped that Jeep like a Tonka toy. The cops were cool. I told them I’d been run off the road by a black Bronco. They put out a call on the phantom four-wheeler, performed a perfunctory field sobriety test (which I passed on pure adrenaline), and didn’t make me blow. One of the cops told me they figured I’d had a tough enough day already.
I quit drinking on the spot. After they scraped up my wreck and dropped me off at a fleabag motel, I called my AA sponsor, who listened well and reminded me there was still a seat for me in our meeting room. I showed up at the next meeting, identified as a newcomer, and began another multi-year run in sobriety.
I got hurt in 2000. “Hurt” doesn’t quite make it. I was paralyzed from the neck down in a skiing accident, while on duty as a patroller in our local mountains. My healing from that event was nothing less than miraculous. It quickly became clear that not only could I receive the kind of healing energy that had saved my life, but I could also channel or transmit it – a gift I’ve come to recognize as being present in all of us. For the past 14 years, this fact or phenomenon has been the central point of focus in my spiritual, academic, and professional life. I didn’t change my path. My path changed me.
My walk through the dark fire took me deep into a jungle of pain, medical interventions, and a sizzling affair with opioid pain meds – blended into a happy-hour cocktail of anti-seizure drugs, muscle relaxers, benzodiazepines, anti-depressants and stool softeners, with ADD drugs thrown in like nuts on a sundae. My medical caretakers repeatedly reminded me that this was my life now and I had better get used to it.
After a year and a half living like a rat on a cage wheel, I was drawn to a Qi Gong master in Sausalito who spent about 10 minutes working his juju with me one day. He never touched me, but I definitely felt my spine crackle and pop like I was getting a manual-force adjustment. When he was finished, the master told me to stop taking pain meds, to go drink some water and get a good night’s sleep. I didn’t feel any different; my body still hurt like raging hell. Honestly, I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope. But I did what he said. Downed a 1.5 of Aquafina and headed off to bed.
I snapped awake the next morning, sprang out to my balcony to catch the chilly, misty dawn over the Bay. I had this thing the doctors liked to call “chronic intractable central neuropathic pain” – like railroad spikes through my arms and legs and a million pissed off fire ants invading my skin. Cold and wet were major triggers. As I went through the movements I’d learned from this master, I noticed something: I wasn’t in pain, and I was many hours past my Oxycontin half-life. There was still a remnant, a shadow sensation of my former pain, but I’d gone from a 10 to a 2 overnight – from intolerable to totally manageable. I discontinued all narcotics, with no withdrawal, and most of the other stuff, eventually phasing out all medicines except marijuana.
I crashed a road bike in a triathlon a couple of years later. Tore up my back, broke ribs, got a brutal road burn. They gave me Norco at the hospital after the race. It still worked. Worked so well, I refilled the prescription. I had a doctor who sympathized with my pain and would write me whatever I needed. Turned out what I needed was more Norco. I kept it on the down low for a long time, telling myself it was all good because I was “within prescription limits.”
Then the tidal wave hit. Bottom dropped out of the real estate market, we went upside down, lost our home, everything. The love of my life lost her mind. I was studying for my masters degree, doing hard distance training and kung fu, juggling jobs to stay afloat, enduring unthinkable pressures at home, stretched to the breaking point. Storm-shattered and shipwrecked, I clung to my Norco like a life preserver. It took away my pain, and gave me a feeling like I could handle anything. I would jokingly call myself “Captain Impervious.” Nothing could hurt me.
During these interesting times, I began working with Ayahuasca. "Grandmother," as we call her, quickly showed me the damage I had done to my body with the pain meds, and insisted that I get off that shit. My first few encounters with her were excruciating, as she located and dissolved areas within my body and psyche which had been blocked and stagnated by the prescription meds. She wouldn’t take no for an answer.
I listened. It took some work, though I was carried on a wave of intention and grace. I did my week in a cheesy motel room shaking it out. I went deep into meditation retreats, counseling, spiritual practice. With the pain meds gone, all the hurt, torment and tragedy that had been suppressed came suddenly unmasked to be experienced and healed. Over a period of several months, I went through an epic personal metamorphosis, a complete ground-up reconstruction of my inner life. I emerged from my cocoon a newly realized version of myself. My life is simple, authentic and fulfilling. I choose not to use alcohol or prescription drugs, and I have no stress about that. I still visit Grandmother’s house from time to time. My encounters with her now are generally blissful and sweet, though she still demands respect and attention to her lessons. I am strong, balanced, free and happy in a way I can’t ever remember being before. It feels so good to feel good!
The dominant treatment model asks us to accept that we have a progressive, genetic brain disease that only gets worse over time, that we have no control, and that there is no cure. We’re sentenced to a lifetime of dependency on treatment, with no chance of ever breaking out of the wormhole of addiction. We’re taught in this context that we are powerless, hopeless, beyond human aid, that only God can relieve us of our affliction.
While it is our choice to believe – or not believe – in the presence, power and guidance of Divine Source in our lives, it does not seem to be a requirement for recovery. (It might, however, be an asset.) Statistics reveal that those with a strong sense of spiritual faith live longer, healthier, happier lives than those without. In the words of Graham Hancock, internationally renowned author, journalist and psychonaut, “I recommend about ten Ayahuasca sessions.”
See you next issue with an update. Namaste, bitches!
Doug Heyes M.A is a writer, healing artist and outdoor rescuer from Southern California. Alesha Carlander is on the editorial staff of The Fix.