Asklepia Monograph Series

Psychoactive Substance Abuse
and the Consciousness Restructuring Process

by Iona Miller and Graywolf Swinney
Asklepia Foundation,

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.


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 movement.

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 poisoning.

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 develop later.

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 rewarding activity.

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 remain present.

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 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.


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, sugar.

Sex.  Includes autoeroticism, pornography, and varieties of sado-masochistic activity.

Gambling.  Includes numbers, horses, dogs, cards, and roulette.

Activity.  Includes work, exercise, and sports.

Pursuit of power.  Includes spiritual, physical, and material power.

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 exercise.

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 stimuli.

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, 1987).

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 serious self-evaluation.

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. The 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.


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 rebirth.

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 person’s soul.

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 initiatory experiences.

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 journey.

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 other’s journeys.

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 spiritual lifestyle.

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 healing.

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 the void.

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.” (Zoja, 1989).

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 possessed.

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.


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 not denial.

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 life changes.

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 person.



Bradshaw, John (1990); Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child, New York: Bantam.

Bradshaw, John (1992);  Creating Love: The Next Great Stage of Growth, New York: Bantam.

Glasser, William, Positive Addiction, New York: Harper and Row Publishers.

Gorski, Terence and Miller, Merlene (1982); Counseling for Relapse Prevention, Independence: Herald House-Independence Press.

Larsen, Earnie, Stage II Recovery, San Francisco: Harper and Row.

May, M.D., Gerald G. (1988); Addiction and Grace, San Francisco: Harper and Row.

McKenna, Terence (1992); Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge, New York: Bantam.

Milkman, Harvey and Sunderwirth, Stanley (1987); Craving for Ecstasy: the Consciousness and Chemistry of Escape, Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books.

Miller, Iona (1983); Pantheon: Archetypal Gods in Daily Life; Seattle: O.A.K. Pub.

Miller, Richard and Iona (1983); Breaking Free of Cocaine, Seattle: O.A.K. Pub.

Minkoff, MD, Kenneth (2000); “Dual Diagnosis, integration of diagnosis of addiction and psychosis”, mental health professional seminar.

Neumann, Erich (1970); The Origins and History of Consciousness, Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press.

Peele, Stanton; The Diseasing of America,

Peele, Stanton (1975); Love and Addiction, New York: Signet.

Spotts, James V. and Shontz, Franklin (1980); “A Life-Theme Theory of Chronic Drug Abuse,” in Theories of Drug Abuse: Selected Contemporary Perspectives; NIDA Research Monograph 30, US Govt. Printing Office.

Zoja, Luigi (1989); Drugs, Addiction and Initiation: The Modern Search for Ritual, Boston: Sigo Press.

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