Asklepia Monograph Series
Psychoactive Substance Abuse
and the Consciousness Restructuring Process
by Iona Miller and Graywolf Swinney
Asklepia Foundation, ©2000
Abstract: Substance Abuse can be revisioned as a substitute spiritual
experience. This notion has even entered into colloquial language,
where intoxicants are refered to as ‘spirits.’ The addictive process
is a bastardization of the shamanic form of drug and ritual-induced initiatory
healing and transformation. It leads to false ego states, ranging
from inflations to atavistic regressions into unconsciousness and dissolution.
A progressive disorder, addiction is literally a matter of life and death,
and a seach for regeneration often ending in a literalized or symbolic
“trip to hell.” The archetypal background of addiction and madness
is the ancient Greek godform, Hades-Dionysus.
Acting-out this pattern can be seen as a pattern of avoidance: the habit
is used to dodge psychological reflection. Sometimes we act in order
not to see. Addiction means actively doing and taking part in order
to avoid knowing what one’s soul is doing. Instead of looking for
himself, for satisfaction within himself, the addict keeps “looking
for action,” for predictable gratification which never quite lives up to
his euphoric recall. Addiction is a black hole for creativity; it
sucks all life energy down into itself, as if nothing else matters.
Addictions are pursued with a zeal that can ironically be called “religious.”
The religious theme is implied by “transgressions” and the “contrition”
that tends to follow binges, by the oaths and deals with the devil or God,
for surcease, or perhaps pleas for more intoxicants to “get well.”
Addiction is a cult-of-substance.
CRP addresses the underlying spiritual disconnectedness through the
inner journey which leads through dissolution and death, thus following
the recurrent theme of addiction, substituting altered states for intoxication
and personal experience of the death/rebirth cycle instead of compulsively
acting it out. The creative leap occurs when observed facts are correlated;
that is, when by perceiving a heretofore unsuspected identity, a conjunctive
path or new order is discovered. The discovery of this class reveals
a new piece of the order of the universe, of Spirit, and each individual
recognizes himself to have similar properties. Access to a higher
state of being is possible only through symbolic and ritual death and regeneration.
It is an initiation of the soul’s transformation. A symbolic death
is a new beginning; an experiential regenerative journey and opportunity
for rebirth. The creative energy that was wrapped up in the repetitive
addictive cycle is free to flow in positive channels. CRP is for
those seeking a deeper meaning within their suffering and patterns.
Keywords: Addiction, substance abuse, creativity, spirituality, altered
states, initiation, recovery, transpersonal psychotherapy, REM, dreams,
healing, sobriety, “dry drunk,” Spirit, Higher Power.
WHAT IS ADDICTION?
The uncanny and compulsive nature of addiction is embodied in tales of
the Vampires--the bloodsucking living dead. They live off the lifeblood
of others; every addict negatively effects an average of 20 other people.
Those who exist under the continual haze of intoxication are indeed the
living dead, those who have either lost or deadened their souls.
At the very least, they are the “walking wounded.” Here, there is
no clear distinction between sanity and insanity, in the mad compulsion
to abandon ego-consciousness. The addict needs to learn that events
have meaning for both life and soul.
The earliest explanations for addictions and the madness of alcoholism
included the assertion that the individual was possessed by the Devil,
or Satanic forces. Today, the medical model of addiction as an organically-based
disease process is the leading theory. It may prove as erroneous
as the former model. It has been well-covered in the Recovery Movement,
however, its succes has been limited, and “retreads," or those who return
again and again, are ubiquitous.
There is a fly in the ointment when it comes to the disease theory of addiction,
or even the chemical predisposition or genetic models. They fail
to account for the fact that anything can be used in an addictive manner.
For example, gambling is not a chemical disorder or predisposition.
Addicts are addicted to a feeling; they must indulge in their addictions
with sufficient abandon to achieve the addicted states, and they display
less self-restraint in giving into these urges.
All addictions accomplish something for the addict. They are ways
of coping with feelings and situations with which addicts cannot otherwise
cope. Addiction is not something people are born with, generally.
Nor is a so-called predisposition a biological imperative, since even the
addictive individual is able to consider or choose alternatives.
The disease view of addiction cannot apply to gambling, compulsive sex,
overspending, bulimia, work, people addictions, or activity addictions.
Addiction is not a chemical side effect of a drug, but the direct result
of the psychoactive effects of a substance--of the way it changes our sensations.
The fact that people become addicted to such a wide variety of “psychoactive”
substances proves that addiction is not caused by chemical or biological
forces and that it is not a special disease state, as alleged in the recovery
Addiction exists wherever persons are internally compelled to give energy
to things that are not their true desires. Addiction is a state of
compulsion, obsession, or preoccupation that enslaves a person’s will and
desire. Addiction sidetracks and eclipses the energy of our deepest,
truest desire for love and goodness. We succumb because the energy
of our desire becomes attached, nailed, to specific behaviors, objects,
or people. Attachment, then, is the process that enslaves desires
and creates the state of addiction. The word detachment is used in
spiritual traditions to describe freedom of desire.
The experience itself is what the person become addicted to. The
development of an addictive lifestyle is an accumulation of patterns in
people’s lives of which drug use is neither a result nor a cause but another
example. Yet, paradoxically, the harder they pursue it, the more
elusive it becomes. The experience rarely lives up to the euphoric
recall of the ultimate high.
It is this cycle of desperate search, which appears in compulsive gamblers,
shoppers, overeaters, love and sex addicts, etc. that most characterizes
addiction, with its temporary or inadequate satisfaction, and renewed desperation.
The complete focusing of attention, overriding excitement of risk, the
exhileration of immediate success, and negative sensations of loss and
suffering add up to a potent emotional cocktail that is intense and overwhelming.
Mentioned repeatedly in the psychological profile of potential and active
abusers are the following traits: 1). High level of anxiety
in interpersonal relationships; 2). Emotional immaturity;
3). Ambivalence toward authority; 4). Low frustration
tolerance; 5). Grandiosity; 6). Low self-esteem;
7). Feelings of isolation; 8). Perfectionism (a form
of self-punishment); 9). Guilt; 10). Compulsiveness.
Addictions are frequently coupled with other personality disorders or mental
illness, in what is known as dual disorders, where both diagnoses are primary.
These traits can range in degree from the impulsive personality to the
sociopath or psychopath, who is unable to experience guilt or responsiblity
for his behavior. Issues include accepting discipline, recognizing
limits, and being a responsible individual. But, addictive behavior
doesn’t respond to willpower because it is an irrational process, of self-destructive
The stages of substance abuse can be classified as follows: 0).
abstinence; 1). initiation of use; 2). continuation (susceptibility
increases with each new exposure); 3). transition (the change from
use to abuse produces disgust and increased anxiety); 4). cessation means
either satiety or abstinence. This requires fundamental reshaping
of the personality, not subtitution of one addictive relationship for another;
5). relapse, or reversal.
There are a plethora of theories describing the origins of addictive patterns
in addition to the medical model of genetic predisposition and familial
disease. Among the most plausible are the following: personality
deficiency; social influence; addiction-to-pleasure; disruptive environment;
metabolic deficiency; bad-habit theory; drug subculture theory; ego-self
theory; coping theory; achievement-anxiety, and neurobiological.
The craving for ecstasy is more fundamental than cellular cravings which
It seems likely that many of the above influences play an important part
in any individual case. Of particular interest to Transpersonal therapy
is “the Life Theme Theory of Chronic Drug Abuse.” Those who
have a life-long pattern of chronic dependence on an outside agent for
their fulfillment lack something within. Something from the outside
can never fill this inner void. This theory takes into account the
spiritual dimension of the experience.
The characteristic lifethemes, such as the negative hero, lie deeper
than the ego and lifestyle of an individual. It is the core conflict
of the person, and may, in fact, be preprogrammed and the result of a predisposition
to this behavior. The myth manifests in life as an uncontrollable
repetition compulsion. It may seem like a strange way for the psyche
to insure the wholeness of a person, but is is a psychobiological reality
for some even though they are poisoning themselves.
Drug-induced states vary widely, but in general are ways of artificially
inducing contraction or expansion of the ego. Amphetamines appeal
to unreflective action-oriented types, and those who deludedly think they
get more work done with them. Narcotics abusers typically try to
withdraw from the problems of life rather than conquer them. Barbiturate
users seek a ticket to oblivion where they can release their tensions in
aggressive behavior or accidents with no ensuing sense of guilt.
The gateway to excess has two distinct stages: 1) the acquisition
phase, and 2) the maintenance stage. Both substance use and mood-altering
activities tend to produce an initial state of euphoria, which is then
followed by a negative emotional state; that is, a high followed by a low.
This posteuphoric discomfort gives further impetus to repetition of the
In the acquisition phase, the novice begins and continues a potentially
compulsive activity because of pleasurable sensation brought on through
the experience. The “rush” or sense of well-being becomes a need-satisfying
activity. The user soon needs more of the mood-altering activity
in order to experience similar alterations in feeling.
During the acquisition phase of an arousal addiction a person is able,
almost at will, to alter his or her neurotransmission by engaging in activities
or drug use. But, it is not wise to synthetically alter the balance
of the human brain. Repeated mind-altering episodes of the same intensity
soon bring about changes in the amount of protein molecules (enzymes) required
for neurotransmitter-induced reactions to occur. These enzymatic
changes result in the need for higher doses of activities or drugs for
the person to reach the level of subjective arousal experienced at the
beginning of the addictive process.
In the maintenance phase of addiction, a person is no longer motivated
by any sense of pleasure from the need-gratifying behavior. Rather,
the repetitive activity now serves only to relieve the sense of despair
and physical discomfort that is felt when the mood-altering action or substance
is not present. The user can only “break even” by performing his
or her tension-relieving activity.
In the maintenance phase, brain chemistry is so altered that the addict
compulsively attempts to maintain a level of neurotransmitters that will
reduce the imbalance and suffering induced by enzymatic changes.
Enzymatic changes occur slowly, and the time required to attain dependency
varies from person to person. Also, brain enzyme levels that have
been gradually altered do not immediately return to normal even though
the activity responsible for the changes has ceased.
For this reason, stopping or reducing compulsive stimulation is often followed
by a subjective experience of depression, or “crash.” This is because
enzyme levels have slowly adapted to counter the repetitive elevation in
neurotransmission, brought about through activities that are suddenly eliminated.
The brain’s altered and more slowly responding enzyme levels remain constant
for the immediate future. Therefore, when the maintenance-phase addict
goes “cold turkey” he suffers a biochemical withdrawl. Cessation
introduces a dramatic state of agitated discomfort. The powerful
enzymatic changes that battled to raise the level of neurotransmission
But the highly seductive process of addiction can’t be attributed to chemical
disruptions exclusively; it also has meaning to the whole individual, for
the soul and spirit.
THE DYNAMICS AND MYTHOLOGICAL BACKGROUND OF ADDICTION
The great myth underlying addiction is the search for the Holy Grail, the
universal medicine or panacea. This magical elixer is the liquid
form of the Philosopher’s Stone. The universal cure is actually a
process. There is a generic process in nature and consciousness which
dissolves and regenerates all forms. The essence of this transformative,
morphological process is chaotic. It is purposeful yet inherently
unpredictable holistic repatterning.
Chaos is the universal solvent, the universal solution to problems, the
panacea. Old forms are dissolved in the rushing stream of consciousness
which is also the self-organizing matrix for the rebirth of new forms and
patterns. The panacea is a metaphor for the dynamic process of transformation,
ego-death, and re-creation. The “root” of alchemy, solutio, corresponds
with the element water, and implies a flowing state of consciousness.
Alchemy had one great prescription for the accomplishment of the Great
Work, “Solve et Coagula,” dissolve and reform. This formula says
to reduce or dissolve all to its primary fundamental essence and then embody
the creative, holistic spirit. This is also the goal of transpersonal
therapies. As of old, they enable turning the dross of life or addiction
(lead) into “gold,” the transformed state.
We repeat this process as modern alchemists when we seek the transformative
medium which allows us to recognize our rigidities (lead) and facilitate
our healing and expression of our full creative potential (gold).
The medium, the ever-flowing river of our consciousness, the fundamental
field beyond energy and form, is expressed through imagery.
This liquid form of the panacea has a two-fold effect: it causes old forms
to disappear and new regenerate forms to emerge. Through “creative
regression,” the generic form of ego-death, consciousness recycles by recursively
bending back upon itself. The direction is a recapitulation of, a
re-experiencing of sequences and sensory impressions from earlier life,
conception and birth, ancestral awareness, genetic and physiological recognitions,
molecular and atomic perceptions, and quantum consciousness.
The universal medicine is the liquification of consciousness through the
dissolution of rigidities which inhibit free flow. They include games,
roles, defense strategies, interpretations, complexes, “old” myths, and
“frozen” energy surrounding traumas which manifest as fear and pain.
Destructuring transformative processes can dissolve them into an expanded
awareness of the Whole.
Healing dissolves problems, allows life to flow in new, creative patterns,
and this free-flowing energy is capable of self-organization. Mystic
ecstasy, or the non-drug induced psychedelic state is mind-manifesting,
consciousness expanding. It dissolves old identifications with our
histories, bodies, emotions, thoughts, and even beliefs. We are free
to explore myriad identifications, structures, and patterns or to rest
in that unborn, unmodified, unconditioned healing state. We imbibe
the panacea through mind-expanding experiential contact with deep consciousness.
This process covers the entire spectrum of ontological and phylogenetic
evolution. It has seven major aspects: 1) return to the womb or primal
state; 2) dissolution, dispersal, dismemberment; 3) containment of a lesser
thing by a greater; 4) rebirth, rejuvination, immersion in the creative
energy flow; 5) purification ordeal; 6) solution of problems, and 7) melting
or softening process. These dynamics are common to mystical experience,
psychedelic exploration, and therapeutic consciousness journeys.
This spiritualizing instinct is a recursive “bending back” of instinct
toward the primordial and divine. Experiential therapy typically
recycles, recapitulates, reiterates, and restructures cascades of impressonistic
transformations spanning all archetypal experiences and morphological transformations.
The information which is most vital to the whole self emerges in the stream
of consciousness as virtual experience. It is a return to the womb
from which all symbols are born, the sacred dimension.
In ancient mythology the god of intoxication and madness was Hades-Dionysus.
Hades embodies the incredible, fathomless depths of the psyche. By
journeying in the depth dimension we discover what is hidden there.
Death is the unknowable goal underlying all human experience. Intoxication
and madness is paradoxically a “death in life,” a living death. This
is the mystery cult of psychological rebirth through the underworld depths,
through soul in matter. This is the godform behind the manic-depressive
pattern of drug-seeking behavior. (Miller, 1983).
Dionysus is creativity in the inspired, almost intoxicated sense, in which
unconsciousness wells up. Identifying brings dismemberment, the fate
of the God when he is torn apart by the compulsive maniacal frenzy of his
worshipful Maenads. So does addiction bring dismemberment in its
wake. It tears us apart. If the creative process is followed
forward into true initiation and transformation there is a chance for regeneration,
creative restructuring or repatterning.
A third archetypal theme in addictive process, besides the panacea and
Dionysian models, is that of Paradise Lost. Through their shared
archetypal matrix, there are very close links between obsessive and religious
behavior. The act of turning to drugs may be rooted in the primal
need to transcend one’s habitual state, but this response is regressive,
rather than progressive or growth-oriented.
Nevertheless, because of its prerational (rather than transpersosnal) archetypal
content, addicts feel that they need their pathologies as a means of self-expression.
However, it is actually the archetypal pattern which seizes and possesses
them, and drags them like Persephone into the undead life in the underworld.
Compulsive ritual is a barrier to transcendence and the mystic search for
ecstasy; the confessions of addicts are hypocritical. The drug becomes
a fetish, but “incorporating” it brings little surcease from anxiety.
The appearance of this regressive theme, counterpoint to the progressive
one of initiation, signals that the addict’s relationship with the drug
has deteriorated. Affective reactions resulting from fascination
are dangerous, since they amount to invasion by the unconscious.
The search for Paradise Lost means a quest for the sacred, the divine.
However, it is pursued chaotically, not through courageous renunciation
of the ego, but through false ego-states and pseudo well-being. This
is a regression to the carefreeness of early infancy, which can be reflected
in fantasy. The weak, infantile ego yearns to drown its pain in a
nostalgic return to undifferentiated unconsciousness (regressive, incestuous,
reunification with the Great Mother). (Neumann, 1970).
Thus, the initatory model degenerates into an act of consumerism.
Drug-initiation detriorates into drug-addiction. There is no emphasis
on contact with a higher, more sacred dimension, but regressive immersion
in the underworld of unconscious behavior, criminal activity, and self-destructive
behavior. As the experience is repeated again and again, and as the
“profanity” of the user’s earlier life become more and more accentuated,
he is forced to suppress his archetypal expectation even more deeply.
Repetition supercedes initiation: religious expectation gives way to destructive
obsession, moral abdication, and self-sacrifice.
And yet even amidst the subsequent gradual self-destruction we can detect
the unconscious remnants of ancient sacred themes. Some deteriorated
remnants of the ancient and universal propensity to sacrifice can be recognized
in drug addicts’ self-immolation. Sacrifice aims at sacredness (sacrifice
means “to make sacred”) through the immolation of a victim. Even
the courts consider drug use a crime against the self; one is one’s own
victim. The drug addict’s slow suicide is a de-ritualized and unproductive
sacrifice. In this negative sacrifice, only the destructive part
of the act survives, and is carried out by a “negative hero.”
In ancient times, sacrifice was for the establishment of communication
between the sacred and profane worlds by means of a victim. Death
consuming life was the very transformation necessary for passage, the price
of the central experience of initiation.
THE HUMANISTIC EXISTENTIAL APPROACH
As well as substances, many behaviors can become agents of addiction, subject
to compulsion, loss of control, and continuation despite harmful consequences.
Many of them can be related to the chemical abuse addictive lifestyle.
Drug ingestion. Includes major psychoactive drugs; and marijuana,
alcohol, caffeine and nicotine.
Eating. Includes overuse of particular foods, for example,
Sex. Includes autoeroticism, pornography, and varieties of
Gambling. Includes numbers, horses, dogs, cards, and roulette.
Activity. Includes work, exercise, and sports.
Pursuit of power. Includes spiritual, physical, and material
Media fascination. Includes TV, video games, movies, and music.
Isolation. Includes sleep, fantasy, and dreams.
Risk taking. Includes excitement related to danger.
Exercise. Includes risk-taking extreme sports, compulsive
Cults. Includes groups using brainwashing or other techniques
of psychological retructuring.
Crime and Violence. Includes self-mutilation, self-victimization,
suicide, crimes against property and people.
Bonding-socialization. Includes excessive dependence on relationships
or social gatherings.
Institutionalization. Includes excessive need for environmental
structure, such as prisons, mental hospitals, and religious sanctuaries,
and institutional use of psychoactive medicine.
The hallmark of the humanistic/existential approach is the view that what
characterizes humans most is our freedom to make responsible choices and
to anticipate the consequences of our actions. Humanistic thinkers
have great respect for the fundamental goodness of humankind, and they
believe that we are responsible for our own behavior.
Although some aspects of our experience are undoubtedly determined by genetic,
social, and cultural influences, in many important situations people are
the primary actors in determining their fate. Humans, more than any
other species of life, form images, engage in reflective thought, use symbols,
and create novel solutions to problems in their midst. Most significant
perhaps is the human ability to conceive of infinity and death. These
unique abilities and sensitivities allow people to choose between alternative
courses of action rather than simply forming thoughtless responses to uncontrollable
The humanistic/existential camp maintains that human experience is characterized
by reciprocal determinism: we interpret our environment and plan our responses
accordingly; we affect the world just as much as it affects us. When
people believe that they do not have the freedom of self-determination,
they react by becoming alienated and depressed. Addiction becomes
a means of coping with feelings of futility and unworthiness.
The diverse array of humanistic/existential approaches to psychotherapy
share three philosophical beliefs: (1) They actively seek to explore
the client’s inner experiences with primary emphasis on the here and now;
(2) They stress personal responsibility and freedom of choice and
will, in regard to both psychotherapeutic growth and fulfillment during
everyday life; (3) They believe that humanistic/ existential therapists
should be active participants in the treatment process. (Milkman,
The chronic absence of good feelings about oneself provokes a dependence
on mood-changing activity. Manifest or masked, feelings of low self-worth
are basic to most dysfunctional lifestyles. One way of coping with
disquieting factors is to immerse oneself in activities incompatible with
The key that opens the doorway to excess for the preaddict is the good
feeling that he or she learns to create, and repeatedly to create, through
self-determined activity. Escape from the increasing sense of despair
invites a reprieve from tension, but experiences of elevated feelings of
self-worth come from addictively producing pleasurable sensations.
addict is initially infatuated with self-determined mood change, but then
comes to feel like a slave to the habit.
Dependence means that after repeated exposure to an event that decreases
neuronal activity in the brain, a person leans on that experience in order
to feel adjusted or normal. Under increased internal or external
stess, however, staying normal is not enough; the addict once again craves
the feeling of getting high to reduce discomfort from feelings such as
pain, fear, anxiety, rage, hurt, shame, and loneliness. These are
precisely the feelings and attitudes about self and world that are transformed
in the therapeutic process.
CONSCIOUSNESS RESTRUCTURING AND ADDICTION
Continuing from the basic premise that most disorders or turbulentt lifestyles
represent blocked or detoured natural psychic processes of creativity and
growth, addiction can be revisioned as a reversal of the natural initiatory
process--a spiritual process where initiatory death is followed by regenerative
In addiction, this cycle is effectively reversed with the rebirth appearing
at the beginning of the cycle and the many metaphorical and literal forms
of death which follow as the natural consequence of “stolen pleasures,”
“stolen energy,” “stolen bliss,” “stolen oblivion and surcease.” These
experiences steal energy from the psychophysical system by depleting dopamine,
norepinepherine, and seratonin from the brain, and often don't give it
time to regenerate its surplus of "feel good" chemistry. Their deletion
results in mood disorders and cravings. Freedom from addiction
comes through spontaneous healing, emotional detachment (freedom from cravings),
and spiritual grace.
If attachment is the process through which desire becomes enslaved and
addictions are created, nonattachment means the liberation of desire, and
freedom. Because of our eternal possibility for freedom, it is no
more hopeless to be defeated by our own interior addictions than by external
oppression. Grace offers us hope in the deepest darkness.
Although we cannot rid ourselves of attachment through our own autonomous
efforts, and our addictions can deaden our responsiveness to grace, there
is always some level at which we can choose, freely, to turn toward God
and seek grace or avoid it. In addiction, the choice is grace or
the grave. We can either be willing to lighten our attachments, or
hold on to them. To be alive is to be addicted, and to be alive and
addicted is to stand in need of grace. (May, 1988).
Addiction is intimately involved with a whole range of mental disorders.
Drugs which depress the appetite create “chemical anorexia.” Studies
of monkeys have shown that, rather than eat, they will ingest cocaine to
the point of death. Many addicts began using amphetamines to control
their weight and found themselves with a whole new problem.
The close affinity between the habitual cycle of drug (or alcohol) consumption
with the manic-depressive syndrome is also readily apparent. They
mirror one another both in the general cycle of manic-depressive lifestyle
in attempts at sobriety, and the rapid cycling of short cycles during recourse
to drug consumption. Obsessive/compulsive behavior begins to dominate.
Addicts attempt to jump from peak experience to peak experience, artificially
avoiding the valleys that allow the system to recharge and assimilate overwhelming
experiences. There is a close analogy between drug addiction and
runaway consumerism, the disorder of conventionality. This behavior
can never stop running after itelf, can never get enough, cannot give up
what it has, allows no tolerance for any decrease; it manifests as running
faster and more frenetically. The flip-side is depressive breakdown,
complete dysfuction, spiritual vacuity. Schizoid personality splits
drive a wedge into the psyche.
Whether it is true or not, psychedelic drugs have always been labelled
as being psychotomimetic (mimicing psychosis) by the medical establishment,
even though it is even more likely to reveal mystical experiences.
The overwhelming imagery, released from the subconscious reveals the chaotic
world of schizophrenia and paranoia in a whirlwind of hallucinatory effects,
distorted body image, ego-death, and uncanniness.
The awesome power of the numinous is revealed when the doors of perception
swing wide, and not all are equipped to navigate successfully through these
dimensions. That journey was, after all, once only the province of
highly trained specialists--the shamans.
The shaman is a specialist in the sacred, in the technologies of the sacred,
in mystical experience and cures. The shaman is healer, priest or
priestess, and psychopomp. The shamanic functions include curing
disease, directing communal ceremonies, and escorting the souls of the
dead to the other world. Shamans invoke healing power to retrieve
stolen or lost souls. Modern man experiences no more profound “loss
of soul” than addiction. Rather than a journey to oblivion, a journey
into spiritual initiation is called for. Thus, the traditional remedy
lies within the realm of the shaman.
Only a shaman can undertake a cure of this kind, since they have experientially
resolved their own illness or psychic crisis through the process of initiation.
The election or call of the vocation appears first as symptoms, as a disorder.
The shamanic crisis is generally so deep it borders on madness, an initiatory
sickness, even initiatory death. Their suffering, seen in dreams,
emulates the ordeals and tortures of initiation, such as dismemberment
or being stripped of flesh. First comes torture at the hands of demons
(or complexes in psychological terms) or spirits, then ritual death, and
third a virtual resurrection to a new mode of being.
The shaman, the archetypal wounded-healer, has the ability to Journey,
to follow the ‘spirits’ who may have abducted the soul and can follow them
into their realm, beyond the very gates of hell into the realm of Death.
He is not possessed by spirits, but directs and is directed by them. Descents
into the Underworld are specifically for finding and bringing back a sick
The unknown and terrifying world of death assumes form; it is organized
in accordance with particular patterns. It displays structure, and
over time becomes familiar and acceptable. Death becomes a rite of
passage to a spiritual mode of being. The second part of the ritual
is the return journey, obliging the soul to resume its place in the patient’s
body. Its return restores a sense of meaning and wholeness.
Besides descents into the Underworld and visualizing their own death, shamans
can also make magical ascents into divine realms through dreams, waking
dreams, and ecstatic techniques, because they are chosen or called to this
work. Listening to the sound of the drum, the shaman’s spirit travels
without moving through the stream of consciousness, to the center of the
world, the center of the Universe. The drum beat is a vehicle for
soul travel, for mystical flight, out-of-body experiences.
The body’s abandonment by the soul during the experiential journey is equivalent
to a temporary death. He learns how to orient himself in the unknown
regions and explore new planes of existence. He becomes familiar
with the inner terrain and knows the road to the primal center; he knows
the obstacles of the journey and how to overcome them. He embodies
the spirit condition and mentors others of his community through their
Mircea Eliade, who codified shamanic practices in the 1950s, claims the
disappearance of initiation is one of the principal differences between
the ancient world and the modern. Its absence has led to modern versions
of loss of soul--consumerism, feelings of insignificance, depression, addiction,
identity crisis, existential despair and malaise, meaninglessness. The
result of desacralization is a need for esoteric and initiatory experiences,
to connect with spirit.
The shaman receives and remembers instructions from dreams, and because
of his own wounding and recovery has the ability to heal. Dreams
are important to the soul for freeing it from its rigid identity with the
ego and waking state. We learn the nature of psychic reality from
dreams. Soul is the background of dreamwork; the Underworld is psyche,
and this relates to the experiential, metaphorical perception of death.
We acknowledge its value and depth through participation in the shamanic
Since the dream conjoins current and past experiences to synthesize new
attitudes, the dream contains potential information about the future.
Recurring dreams, in particular, indicate unresolved conflicts trying to
break into consciousness. Dynamic, noninterpretive participation
with dream images unfolds their potential and value. Individuation
through internal adjustment is the psyche’s goal, the soul’s goal.
Loss of soul or meaning signifies a persistent desire for personal regeneration,
which can also lie at the core of the addictive process. Initiatory
journeys can answer this inner craving for something more, consolidating
truly meaningful experiences, responding to deeper individual needs. The
wounded-healer initiates the same process of inner healing through mentoring
Healing is not expected to come from somewhere else. It emerges from
the wound’s depth and leaves a scar. The scar remains as the reminder,
the soft-spot reminding the psychophysical self of its tenderness.
The scar could have become a deformity, but it is instead the embodiment
of wholeness, male-with-female, body-with-soul, wisdom-with-understanding.
Access to a regenerate state of being is only possible through symbolic
and ritual death and regeneration, an experience of the soul’s transformation.
In regenerative experiences, death is appreciated as a new beginning.
Inititation is thus a rejection of one’s previous identity and the consolidation
of a renewed psychophysical reality, a new image of self and world, a new
Rather than acting-out the negative hero in addiction, it facilitates the
inner journey in a way that restores lost wholeness. The Hero is
involved in a paradoxical process of ordering, which is why he is susceptible
to breakdown and wounding. He is assaulted by the forces of entropy
or disorder which his creative efforts mobilize. Heeding the call,
the journey across the threshold of the unfamiliar leads through dismemberment
and possible annihilation.
The agony of breaking through personal limitations leads to spiritual growth.
Completion of the task requires integration of inner experiences, which
increases freedom. The wounded-healer moves beyond the heroic mode
by switching his self-image from the perspective of history and epic destiny
to one of imaginal reality. He journeys within and remains oriented in
that inner dimension. Image consciousness heals. The sense
of ourselves as images in which all parts belong and are co-relatively
necessary maintains our integrity, like the wound remembered by the scar.
In terms of mystical vision, it is the direct experience of the perception
of reality beyond form and energy, of universal consciousness. Energy
no longer bound up in woundedness is free to flow forth abundantly from
the Source, the unbound self. This is the primordial source of spontaneous
The essence of psychic healing is that it speeds up in time what would
normally be accomplished in a much longer period, if at all. Healing
occurs outside of time. There is a parallel between creativity, healing
and illumination experiences. Healing and illumination are the biological
and spiritual manifestations of free-flowing creativity.
Turning to drugs can be understood as an attempt at a kind of initiation
defective in its basic premise because of a lack of awareness. The
“true” process of initiation--an initiation that fulfills the initiate’s
underlying psychic needs--can be encapsulated in three distinct phases,
according to Zoja (1989):
1). The situation at the outset is one that must be transcended because
of its meaninglessness. The meaningless state of existence must be
trancended, but with drugs this is done in a passive way. The disenfranchised
consumer secretly dreams of transforming himself into a separate, creative
adult, no longer bound to insignificance.
2). Initiatory death entails a renunciation of the world, the rejection
of one’s previous identity, and the withdrawl of libido or psychic energy
from its habitual direction. Energy must be first turned toward internal
seeking rather than a mad external search for something or someone to fill
3). Initiatory rebirth, either individually or in a group, cannot
be accomplished with drug abuse, for it omits the second phase, of initiatory
death. Intoxication is therefore, just another slavish response of
consumerism. It does not allow for renunciation, the creative depression
that starts initiation, nor create sacred inner space to contain renewal.
Oddly, when physical addiction sets in, the activated archetypal expectations
do not diminish.
In this model, drug “initiates,” who use but don’t abuse drugs, satisfy
their innate, archetypal need by renouncing the demands of the ego, a vital
element in “initiatory death.” The new world is encountered without
the degeneration of addictive need to remain in a passive fantasy-land.
The boon of the “trip” is brought into daily life and its lessons integrated
in proactive ways, in societally enhancing ways such as art, progressive
politics, scientific discovery, philosophy, or spiritual mentoring.
In addiction, urges potentially common to all mankind are in play.
They include a craving for ecstasy, for meaning, for significance.
But the positive attempt at self-affirmation often goes awry and degenerates,
or the addict who stops the drug-use on his own retreats back into the
banality of consumerism and conventionality from fear and pain. The
statistical success in recovery treatment is much lower than that for the
treatment of other psychic disorders. It can only even be begun with
deep personal motivation on the addict’s part.
Internal demands seek external release. In the addict’s cooperative
state he is drunk on good intentions and pleasant feelings, overwhelmed
by intense and primitive emotions similar to those aroused by drugs themselves.
Both the drug and the therapy activate archetypal patterns.
The defensive addict is unwilling to confront his own unconscious motivations,
but needs to alleviate his guilt. These dynamics are more important
than the pathological obsession with drugs. There will always be
ambiguity to the motivations, and a search for sympathetic allies.
Drug-subcultures offer counterfeit rites of entrance (even gangs, substitute
families of choice), and so does the recovery process.
“The ancient initiatory models are much more closely followed in clinical
drug-therapy groups than by groups of drug-users...Not only do clinical
groups develop specific rites of entrance anlogous to those in primitive
cultures, but they also facilitate the individual patient in his abandonment
of the group through a rite of exit or separation, which is traditionally
classified as a particular rite of passage.
“Thus separation from the therapy group or the end of one’s symbiotic
relationship with drugs could both be seen in terms of initiatory stages.
Compared with initiation into drug use, these phases are more difficult
in that they complete the initiatory cycle and thus confront the individual
with his own loneliness, but also grant him an infinitely greater self-awareness.
In this light, perhaps we can understand why so many therapies based on
detoxification end up in failure. It is impossible to simply eliminate
a behavior without redirecting the patient towards a completely new dimension.”
Addicts can be arrogant and proud of their drug-taking behavior.
They identify with it and endow the internal psychological life-experience
with coherence and continuity. It comes to define who they are, corresponding
to a role reflecting societal status and function. Neither identity
nor role is consciously understood by these individuals. They arise
from fundamental archetypal themes by which the addict becomes slavishly
Addiction is an archetypal process, an unconscious attempt at initiation,
the archetypal need to trancend one’s present state at any cost, to escape
to some other world. Rather than an escape from society, it is a
desperate attempt to occupy a special place in it, even to the point of
creating subcultures of conforming nonconformists.
The addict puts his existence at stake and fights wholeheartedly to either
win or die. Archetypal experiences are often dangerously antithetical
to rationality and objectivity; these needs resist time and cultural evolution.
Drugs have the ability to evoke unsatisfied archetypal urges through the
power of hypnotic attraction. They function as “strange attractors.”
The individual struggle is endowed with risk and responsibility, but in
addiction movements are no longer able to relegate meaningful conflicts
to the person’s own personal responsibility. The compulsion overrides
their response-ability to the growth concerns of life. The Journey
to Oblivion is inexhorable. Addiction is a negative adaptation, a
passive regression toward oblivion and unconsciousness. The choice is grace
or grave. Only spiritual grace can reverse this trend. Even
if it is a regressive longing for the archaic paradise, only a transforming
spiritual experience will suffice.
Addiction is not automatically connected with substances, but with the
ultimate corruption of substances by those who expect archetypal, magical,
ritual, and esoteric results from them. It is “supposed” to carry
one far away. It does. The process begins with organic habit
formation and rapidly develops a psychological habit which tends to transform
itself into a kind of conditioning, and spontaneous formation of rituals,
a parareligious element.
The individual involved is usually aware of habit formation and conditioning,
but not the striving for the sacred, though a lively unconscious world
is activated. The pathological threshold in drug abuse is crossed
when a repetitive need for a drug appears independently of any archetypal
function. At this point, addiction sets in. Not even the archetypal
function of an exotic drug should be taken too literally. A drug’s
archetypal function limits its consumption only if sacred respect is translated
into affective ritual accompanying and channeling the use of the drug.
An initiatory truth is absolute and cannot manifest itself physically unless
it is relativized and de-sacralized. Every initiatory urge more or
less unconsciously activates an archetypal model containing both death
and renewal, and the fragility of the structures activating them can block
either initiatory death or renewal.
While regeneration is a purely psychic process, psychic death can be a
specific and irreversible organic event. When the initiatory process
is not satisfying and complete enough an experience, one can be tempted
to pursue it with increasing fury. This intensification of the material
process doesn’t necessarily augment the psychic one.
The user pursues ever-larger doses when the archetypal experience remains
unreachable. The death-element is activated, since a need which is
not expressed symbolically always tends to become literalized. The
degeneration of the death-and-regeneration process leads to literal death;
any initiatory theme sensitizes the individual to the possibility of death.
Again, death and regeneration are the key to every initiatory process;
initiation leads to spiritual death. Even when the physical death
of the individual is not an issue, psychic death is still constellated
in addiction. Values, affections, and ideals are all dead, a progressive
psychic death. The death element can easily prevail, but its pure
form is an attempt to create a form of self-initiation.
There is no awareness of the distinction between the sacred and profane,
nor respect for the divine. Addiction ignores the preparatory or
purificatory sacrifices which accompany and limit the use of drugs in primal
societies. The view is naive and shortsighted, ignoring toxicology
and psychological obstacles. The body reacts by showing signs of
poisoning, and since it can’t integrate the experience, so does the psyche.
An attempt at initiation ends up paradoxically affirming death rather than
rebirth; it stalls at the early phase of the process, the death phase.
In the moments following drug ingestion, one experiences more or less intense
ego-death, a distancing of that consciousness, rationality, and lucidity
we imagine we enjoy.
Ego-death corresponds with the necessity of death in the initatory archetype.
This death is not consciously accepted, nor is it experienced as death,
but as a loosening of excessive tension; the ego is de-activated.
When the drug wears off, the death-experience comes violently. In
the self-initiatory attempt of addiction, the initiation is inverted--rebirth
is the initial experience, death the final one.
It is a downward initiation toward the underworld of death and darkness.
The self-destructive death of the drug addict is something faced passively.
What is missing is the hero’s energy and will power, as well as something
better to do. Addicts abdicate responsibility for their own destiny.
The pseudo-rituals express an obsessive archaic need for rituals now suppressed
by our society. The emotional rituals include transgression, contrition,
feelings of guilt, naive and decisive forms of reparation.
The addict is unconsciously motivated by both the need to feel and work
through reparation and a form of self-absolution from guilt through self-sacrifice.
They unconsciously search for experiences of loss in an attempt to fill
the void, the opposition of being and not-being. Loss of consciousness
results in the emergence of archetypal contents to fill the vacuum.
OVERCOMING CRAVINGS AND RELAPSE
The majority of substance abusers “mature out” of their problem behavior.
Many stop using or drinking to protect their self-concept; they didn’t
like what they saw when they looked at themselves. They don’t identify
with having a disease or being powerless in their lives. This is
They have a moment of personal epiphany when they disidentify with and
detach themselves from the habit pattern, and change their lifestyles accordingly.
They identify with the person they see themselves as having become.
Untreated addicts tend to choose idiosyncratic techniques that have special
meaning for them. What people think about instead supports their
related identities and perspectives and supplants thoughts of reusing addictive
drugs automatically. They know they have the power to desist, and
realize they have better things to do with their lives.
According to Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura, people who have the
power to resist addiction have a sense of self-efficacy--the feeling that
they can control the outcomes in life that matter to them. There
are advantages to people deciding that their cure is their own, both to
create and to maintain creatively. The notion of remission is irrelevant.
Those who believe their cure is dependent on a group recovery process show
the least stability in resolving their problems and most readily relapse.
Natural remission means just that--fundamental reassessing and realigning
one’s mission in life--creative growth and development. Once having
completely transcended previous addictive identities, and a lived experience
with a new identity, an individual would have to go back to being an entirely
different person from the one he had become.
Total elimination of the addict identity is possible through fundamental
restructuring of primal self-image, life patterns, relationships and work
and leisure activities. They adjust their self-image so that they
see themselves as having gone beyond the role of recovering addict.
They may understand their former addicted self, but now conceive of a self
with an entirely new range of possibilities and obligations.
Disease-based therapy entirely rejects this possibility. The model
may help people accept their problem behavior, break through denial and
seek treatment during peak periods of addiction and self-destructive behavior.
However, a majority can have fuller lives when they cease thinking of themselves
exclusively as recovering addicts.
The primary need is for them to learn to facilitate the natural healing
process, and how not to interfere with the spontaneous healing process.
This process is obvious since alcoholics and addicts often cure themselves.
This group forms the majority of cases which never enter the statistics
of diagnosis and recovery.
CRP speeds up the natural healing process. It takes both intrapsychic
change--or a reconceptualization of who you are, what is good for you,
how much you can love yourself healthy, and how you wish to live--and real
Therapy succeeds when it helps with these very concrete but global chores--helping
the person to see the addiction in new light while developing life resources
to a point where the person can do without whatever rewards he or she once
sought from the addiction. Even when people turn to therapy, however,
they must ultimately accomplish these things for themselves. Therapy
enhances the individual’s ability to deal with negative emotions and to
get positive results and reinforcement in life. (Peele).
The orientation is not one of “recovering” anything, i.e. either the old
diseased self-image that fostered the addiction taking root, or re-covering
up the old wounds that may remain deeper than conventional therapy can
address. Rather, there is a creative, total reformation or the primal
sensory self-image that restructures the whole person from the inside out.
With or without therapy, one needs a strong desire to change; learning
to accept and cope with negative feelings and experiences; development
of enough life resources to facilitate change; improved work, personal,
and family dealings; a changed view of the attractiveness of the addiction
brought on by a combination of maturity, feedback from others, and negative
associations with the addiction in terms of the person’s larger values.
The best thing people can do to solve or prevent addiction is to learn
to control their destinies, to find social and work rewards, and to minimize--or
at least to bring with manageable limits--stress and fear, including their
fear of addiction. Anyone with addictive patterns, can choose to
align personality with soul and empowerment. Every moment is an opportunity
to choose anew, to remember your spirit.
Drug use seems to be the instrument for setting up contact and for communicating
with new psychic states. Unfortunately, by taking these drugs, we
gradually give up communicating with the beyond, and concentrate our attention
on what was supposed to be the means to an end--the drug itself.
Addiction is more than a habit or dependency; it is a search for the sacred,
for initiation. The search is for a transcendent experience always
sought but never reached. One begins pursuing this goal more and
more frenetically, and soon a manic pattern has been established.
With authentic initiation, with experiential contact with soul, the sacred,
and undifferentiated source, comes a healing that calms the tensions and
frenzy. This initiation process leads to the development of the whole
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THE INSTITUTE FOR APPLIED CONSCIOUSNESS
P.O. Box 301, Wilderville OR 97543
(541) 476-0492 e-mail: asklepia@
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