Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

Sins of the Fathers

By | Emotional Intelligence, Spirituality in Addiction Recovery | 9 Comments

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep!
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep!
People are going back and forth
across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
The door is round and open
Don’t go back to sleep!” – Rumi


I had the recent privilege of attending a “Soul Retreat Gathering” hosted by The Hero’s Journey Foundation . It was held at a wonderful place called, Anubhuti Retreat Center in Novato, California.

The long weekend was fashioned after a “Soul Tavern” where in the tradition of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey work, we gathered to invest time for renewal and discovery for the next phases of our lives. A space to, “Renew intentions that bring us more fully alive and reactivate our capacity to make ourselves useful in this ordinary world.”

What made it especially meaningful for me is that my oldest son, Tyler attended with me. Our family chose names for Christmas gifts last year and I picked Ty. I thought it would be nice to do something different together and when the weekend experience came onto my radar, I secured two places in…The Tavern.

Neither Ty or I knew exactly what to expect and as was pointed out on the introductory evening by the facilitator and master storyteller, Michael Mervosh, what we expected probably would not occur and what we came for was not for our individual selves. Something else would happen.

Michael was right and what did occur, another gift of my recovery and life-time.

Intergenerational Wounds–Sins of the Fathers

My story has carried with it the trauma and the wounds of both my namesake, maternal grandfather and my father committing suicide when I was a baby and then young boy, respectively. While I don’t really think we humans completely “let go” of central themes and issues in these life times, we can lessen and soften their impacts on our here and now living through the choices we make.

Somehow as Providence would have it, I found it necessary years ago to leave my family after nearly 20 years of marriage through divorce and the confusion of my addiction. A choice I regret, but convinced at the time, the right thing to do. Ever since, and increasingly as the years pass, I have felt as if I perpetuated the sins of my fathers on to my sons via my own inner tug-of-war of abandonment and survival.

The Tavern–and Tyler–offered up a different interpretation of the story for me to consider. During the course of our work over the weekend, Tyler pointed out, “Dad, you’ve got an agenda here”, and he was right. I wanted Ty to have a way of getting at the inner struggles of what…I was projecting onto him, my own abandonment issues. I wanted to say to him again how utterly sorry I am for not having the strength and good integrated health to stay with the family, with him, his brothers and Mom and work through it.

Getting At It and the Gift of My Son

At one point Tyler was poised to leave the event provoked by my often awkward effort to “get at” the work. I have a strong tendency to bring Court Jester energy to gatherings with complete abandon, something that makes Ty and most others very uncomfortable. The combination of my largely unconscious antics, but mostly Ty’s willingness to “stay with the process and work through it” led to our breakthrough.

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The gift to me from my gentle and caring son, Tyler through The Tavern is that the sins of my fathers are not mine. Ty showed me through his graciousness and patience that I can give the “sins of the fathers” and their illusory burden back to my Dads, and while Ty may have some of his own individual work to do, he has given my sins–back to me. He made it clear that we can accept what has happened and be present with and for each other and Live for today.

While something still and always will live in me to try to protect and “save” my sons, the truth is that Tyler is his own man on his own Hero’s Journey and an admirable and accomplished journey it is.

I have eternal gratitude to the The Hero’s Journey Foundation and especially my son, Tyler who showed up in a place he wouldn’t have chosen for himself and stayed in that place until its gifts could be received with gratitude. You can’t find a better man.

I love you, Ty. Thank you, my beautiful son.

gI_143022_Woman Surf

Surfing and Addiction Recovery – I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like

By | Addiction Recovery, Spirituality in Addiction Recovery, Wellness | 12 Comments


Surfing and Addiction Recovery

If addiction recovery is anything, it’s about finding new, better and healthier habits to replace the old ones. From brain science to the nuts and bolts of life–that’s the bottom line and practice makes progress.

Truth is–and for me–all practices have a spiritual component to them from the spirituality of food to walking meditations. If I bring in mind, body and spirit into any single practice, it has proven to be one that I’ll keep and do “religiously” because the healthy payoff is so very renewable, sustainable and satisfying.

Baptism into the Church of the Pacific

Baptism into the Church of the Pacific

One of the many gifts and resources my family has bestowed upon my life in terms of these robust kinds of addiction recovery practices, is bringing to my awareness the healing power of what I call my, “Church of the Pacific.” Dad baptised me into the Pacific Ocean as a two year old toddler and I have been a devout parishioner for 58 years and counting.

There is nothing I am more proud of in terms of personal goals and accomplishments than parlaying my Dad’s gift into becoming a surfer. And in doing so, my surfing practice informs my recovery practice and vice-versa.

My relationship with surfing has evolved into a kind of platonic-romantic combo when, as Richard Tarnas describes in his Cosmos and Psyche, and I paraphrase, “The observer’s act is one of love and intelligence combined, of wonder as well as discernment, opening to a process of mutual discovery.” Becoming a better observer of my life while surfing is every bit analogous to the journey of recovery.

So from here on out, don’t hesitate to go-with-the-flow and read recovery practice and surfing practice as two sides of the same coin.

Move Well | Think Well | Eat Well

Surfing has never been a sport or anything quite so mechanical for me. Invariably, every time I step into the ocean with the intention of feeling, playing and dancing with Her mysteries, I am transformed from whatever I was to pure gratitude and joy. I bring all of what I am only to be humbled and welcomed by relentless surprises which never cease to amaze me. A functional movement practice? You bet and much, much more.

It has come to my attention that the frame of mind or mood I bring affects each experience I have in my surfing sessions. If this is true for me it is certainly true for each and every one of us in the lineup, (pack of surfers). Our individual and collective ways of being profoundly affect the lineup and our surfing experiences. In this way, surfing is also a magnificent cognitive behavioral–thinking well–therapy.

And if I’m not honoring the eating well part of the synergistic wellness practice equation, none of the above is likely to happen.

Surfing is not a casual thing. The learning curve and playing field are much too long and full of the unknown to produce anything predictable or ordinary. Each session offers a full spectrum of possibilities and lessons. Every surfing lineup has its own inimitable personality. It is palpable when paddling out. The lineup, like a swarming flock of entrained birds or school of synchronized fish, moves and morphs as a collective consciousness. There is a sixth sense in the water. The lead–or more experienced surfers are beckoned toward an incoming set of waves just as homing pigeons know how to get home. There is something else by which we are informed…something else.

Next best thing: Watching

Next best thing: Watching

As the lineup follows the beckoning relationship with nature obediently, trillions of neuro-physiological events occur in the “mind” of the collective for one or two surfers to meet the wave at its most optimal shape and place for taking off and riding. There is an honored and unspoken “rotation”, IE, everybody in the water knows whose turn is next. The remainder of the group watches from myriad angles and perspectives, learning and knowing that their moments of ecstasy are not only riding, but observing and enhancing the experience while doing so.

Being submerged in the Earth, playing and diving into the very mantle of where we live, speaks to the magic and ineffable longing that surfers have to return again and again. Author, Steven Levine writes, “This living is the densest part of our being.” Surfing offers holy instants of temporal transcendence. Momentary feelings of being in the weightlessness Light for us Beings of Light are why you can take surfers out of the ocean but you cannot take the ocean out of surfers.

Welcome to our home

Welcome to our home

Real surfers

Real surfers

Like experiencing a Picasso exhibit a surfer can walk upon the water and rise above the mess on a wet and wild canvas so dynamic and thrilling that just being in the water next to such an artist is tantamount to a holy communion. In between these breath taking nuggets of joy we surfers can be met with the nonchalant presence of an otter having breakfast on her chest or a pod of dolphins arriving to show us how it’s really done. If that is not enough, just look over your shoulder, because a synchronized cascade of pelicans is approaching on a cushion of air as the wave proudly offers up the ancient aviators their liquid reef.

An ancient aviator on her liquid reef

An ancient aviator on her liquid reef

Any surfer will tell you that just stepping into the benevolent and powerful sea is enough. The gift that just keeps giving seems to revel in allowing human intention to move Her molecules as desired. But as human complacency washes over the potential hyper-lucid zone that She offers, our Mother Ocean can be a terrific and stern disciplinarian. Like any magnificent work of art, the request for paying close and abiding attention to the work, is why it was created. Looking at the ocean from a distance can be awe-inspiring and spectacular, but getting into it–is nothing short of divine.

Addiction recovery and surfing are two very good practices of living life on life’s terms. While living and loving both ways of life, I have learned to, “fall down seven times and get up eight times” and to go for waves and visions I never thought possible. I have learned to paddle out and paddle back out into the unknown while being reassured by that “something else”, all will be well every stroke of the way. I have learned to trust Life in a healthy and measured way even when I am scared-to-death.

Surfing and addiction recovery are ways to be in relationship with the world that have been gifts of a lifetime. They are cherished ways of being that offer up the bottom line of what I always wanted; to see and to be seen, and to love and be loved.

I’ll look forward to seeing you out there.

Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

By | Spirituality in Addiction Recovery | 11 Comments

Spirituality in addiction recovery can be a stumbling block for many. As there are myriad ways of “getting at” the spirituality of all things, it can be challenging especially when people have a passionate, particular religious bias or entirely repulsed by religion, period. Not so coincidentally, both of these perspectives and everything inbetween show up in addiction treatment regularly.

As a result, spirituality can be a charged issue in recovery circles while simultaneously being something hardwired in us all. Most people agree, spirituality is an integral part of addiction recovery and wellness. The challenge remains how to frame spirituality in an attractive, both/and, not either/or way.

Jane Bell Goldstein

Jane Bell Goldstein

Recently in an unsuspected way and unbeknownst to her, I was given a treasured gift toward this “both/and” quest of mine by my sister, Jane Bell Goldstein. Jane shared with me a short essay she had written entitled, Under the Sun. She shared it with me because she suspected I’d enjoy the family lore and because she’s a loving, giving woman in the tradition of my own, particular bias.

After years of searching for ways to bridge the semantics gap, I’ll call it, (when communicating with recovery groups) between the often confusing concepts of God, spirituality, religion, atheism, etc., Jane’s essay, while not expressly written for this purpose, speaks to the challenge in a refreshing and unadulterated way.

As you’ll read, Jane is a disciplined and talented writer. Her own discoveries and insights about her cherished relationship with existence bring feelings of joy and unity to me. With her permission, I’d like to share her essay with you and hope you enjoy Under the Sun as much as I do:

Under the Sun

The first time I met God, personally, was in the spring of 1956. I can pinpoint the memory in time, a month or so after my fourth birthday on April 10th. Our church, Trinity Episcopal in Staunton, Virginia, admitted children to Sunday school at age four. I would be the seventh generation of my father’s family to receive my religious education there, in a continuum that had been interrupted only by the American Revolution, when the church was shuttered.

Though I had already been introduced to religious observance in the form of a daily bedtime prayer followed by the blessing of my family—no mean task for a child with 3 siblings, 14 aunts and uncles, and 27 first cousins—the opening procession at the church service provided my first sensory experience of the divine. Bookended in the pews by our parents, children were allowed to witness the spectacle each Sunday before filing out to our classrooms, where we would not distract the adults from the less beguiling aspects of the faith.

The rustle and low buzz of whispers silenced as a long note sounded from the pipe organ housed in the lancet-arched chapels on either side of the chancel. I broke my fascination with the ethereal aura around the ascendant Jesus created by the late-morning sunlight through the triptych Tiffany windows behind the altar. As the instrumental introduction of the processional hymn reverberated through the church, the congregation stood and turned toward the rear door. Though I could not yet read, my mother tucked a hymnal in my hands, opening it to the correct page so I could follow along. I brimmed with pride.

The doors swung open. Voices rose from the congregation, Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war/ With the cross of Jesus, going on before. A splendid young man carrying a giant gleaming brass cross led the procession, his white cassock belted at the waist by a rope that helped him bear the weight. Next came the choir, about thirty men and women in white smocks over red robes that exposed only their shiny black Sunday shoes. As they proceeded down the aisle, the crescendo of voices intensified to the point that I could no longer distinguish any individual voice, not even my own.

As I sang louder and louder, my ignorance of the lyrics and melody became inconsequential. The vibration of my vocal cords inextricably entwined with the sound that enveloped me, until, paradoxically, I felt both apart and merged with the whole, as a baby might, while still in the womb. Even today, my recollection of this seminal communal experience evokes an emotion that inspires and comforts me. As it occurred, however, and since, I never considered it an encounter with the Almighty. That would come several days later.

Before I go on with my story, let me pause to further explain the cultural milieu in which it took place. Low church Episcopalians, at least the descendants of the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who founded our parish, were not known for their religiosity. Public displays of religious zeal, ecstatic testimony to one’s salvation, cases of the vapors, or the speaking in tongues commonplace in some Protestant sects, discomforted them. In communal worship they stuck to the text of their Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal. Even in prayer outside the church, saying Grace before dinner, for example, extemporizing was considered unseemly, and particularly gauche if it went on too long and delayed the meal. Personal conversations with God, if one chose to engage in them, were to remain unspoken and private.

At the coffee hour after the service that Sunday, Mr. Brooks, our minister, stooped to greet me and laud my participation in the morning hymn. Though ordinary in appearance, clean-shaven, with cropped salt and pepper hair and horn-rimmed glasses, his gray eyes conveyed a benevolent authority. Buoyed by his approval, I determined to seek the Lord’s ear. I knew Mr. Brooks was not God. My parents’ mirth upon hearing my six-year-old brother’s awed announcement that God was at the door, when the pastor came to call one day, had disabused me of that notion. I decided to conduct an experiment. I would ask God directly for a specific action, then see if it occurred.

After thinking on it over several days of dreary weather, I hit upon the content of my request. That night, tucked-in with the lights out after our bedtime prayer, I shut my eyes tight. “Please, God,” I implored in an inaudible whisper, “make it sunny tomorrow.” Then I fell asleep.

I awoke early, but not until after breakfast did I get a chance to assess the efficacy of my appeal. At last, my father left for work, my mother and older siblings for school. Margaret, our maid, busied herself washing the dishes, with my little brother, still young enough to require constant company, by her side. I stole down the hall and slipped outside.

As soon as I cracked the door, light flooded the entryway. Pausing on the walkway to absorb the warmth of success and let my eyes adjust, I looked up through a tracery of flowering branches on the dogwood tree in our front yard. Silhouetted against a cerulean sky, the blossoms transformed into silver-dollar-size four leaf clovers, with dew drop diamonds sparkling on the quatrefoils as they swayed in and out of the dappled shade.

I began to spin, slowly at first, instinctively extending my arms and head in the attitude of a whirling Dervish. As my speed and dizziness increased, the mild ruffle of the breeze, flickering light, and subtle aromas of spring vegetation swirled into a hypnotic vortex. Though my feet never left the ground—an impossibility in the high leather shoes I was required to wear until age five to ensure slender feminine ankles—I can only describe what I felt that morning as levitation. In an upright pose, like the stained glass Jesus at church, I rose toward the sky, though unlike him, I had no adoring disciples watching from below.

An authentic claim to an out-of-body experience at age four might have afforded me social advantage a dozen years later as a teenager in the Bay Area culture of the late ’60s, perhaps a following if I’d possessed the moxie to link it to some rite from antiquity. Even had fate not catapulted me to California, I feel certain that such an early brush with the supernatural, at a minimum, would have disturbed my induction into the genteel worship of the 1950s Shenandoah Valley gentry. As it turned out, I will never know.

Just as my spirit began to come unglued, a warbling whistle brought my spiral, and thus my upward soar, to an abrupt halt. Hunched over a branch above me, a cardinal, the bird, I mean, not a high priest in a scarlet biretta, cocked his head to survey me with a black beady eye. Annoyed by the letdown, I responded with a piercing glare. Rather than recoil or react, he calmly stood his ground, peering at me with a benign curiosity that melted my belligerence.

We continued examining each other for a while. I took in his bright red plumage, black mask, and thick coral beak, as I suspect he cataloged my wide green eyes, oval face, and Buster Brown hair. We moved closer, I edging across the grass toward the tree trunk, he hopping down the branch toward me. As I approached him, I began to see beyond his physical details.

Attempting to position myself so I could look him straight in the eye, I stretched as tall as possible, and with my chin up, tipped my head to the right until my ear almost touched my shoulder. Obligingly, he crouched low on his left leg, and looked down at me, his head tilted to match the inclination of mine. Our eyes met, and I perceived his intelligence. We stared for a moment, conversing, it seemed, though not in words.

Our silence finally broke when, without warning, his head bobbed, sending his pointy crest feathers into disarray. It struck me funny. Too young to have mastered the conventions of respect, I threw back my head and laughed out loud. Taken aback, the cardinal called out a series of sharp metallic chirps, but he did not flee his perch. As the quiet returned, he settled back, like the old man with an overgrown nose I’d seen on the bench in Gypsy Hill Park. I stood beside him only a few more minutes, until my mother turned into our driveway. We didn’t study each other anymore, just accepted our separate beings, at home in the same world. That is where I met God: in the space between us, that joined us.

Jane Bell Goldstein

Thank you, Janie. I love you.