2014 - August

By Christine Calvert

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) mentions several times throughout the text the importance of a spiritual experience in order to maintain sobriety. It states the purpose of this book is to “find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem” (45), and that if you suffer from alcoholism it’s an “illness, which only a spiritual experience will conquer” (44).  Addicts and alcoholics report that substances allow them to find relief from a perpetual state of dis-ease, a feeling of emptiness and fragmentation, a sense of disconnection and hopelessness. This spiritual malady, a disconnect from our source and our true selves, is ultimately the impetus behind the reach to substances, or anything else that will potentially fix or dissolve the feelings of incompleteness internally.  Addiction can be perceived as our psyche’s attempt to re-create a feeling of wholeness. Carl Gustav Jung, in his correspondence to Bill Wilson, described the addict’s craving as "the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness." All these false attempts to “feel better” ultimately lead to dissatisfaction and only temporary relief from the malady.

Holotropic Breathwork™, a process that supports deep inner healing, has the potential to allow an individual an effective spiritual experience, and can assist in facing the barriers that block a person from the “sunlight of the spirit” (Wilson, 66). It can mobilize the psyche, providing access to different types of inner experiences relevant to the healing process of addiction. Psychiatrist and consciousness researcher, Stanislav Grof and his wife, Christina Grof, Ph.D., developed Holotropic Breathwork™ as an approach to self-exploration and healing utilizing the intrinsic wisdom of the psyche. This process is rooted in the recognition that each individual has an inner healer; an intrinsic wisdom within that knows exactly what we need in order to heal, and is constantly attempting to move us in the direction of wholeness. It challenges us to go within for the answers, rather than looking outside of ourselves to somebody or something to fix us. This process helps an individual return to the source within, the essence and truth of who we really are.

Holotropic Breathwork™ uses accelerated breathing, evocative music, art, and focused energy release work in a safe environment with trained facilitators to support healing in an expanded state of consciousness. In this expanded state, when an individual feels safe enough, ego defenses can lower, and the parts of oneself that are unhealed can be brought to the surface for healing. It also allows a person in recovery an opportunity to fulfill an innate need to access deeper states without the use of a substance. In a Breathwork session, there’s the potential to heal difficult biographical material, have a corrective experience with early trauma, experience the wide range and depth of human emotion, release long held emotional material, connect to the subtle (and not so subtle) energies of the body, and experience the spiritual realm on a profound level. Stanislav Grof calls the spiritually oriented experience the “Transpersonal”, meaning “beyond the limits of personal identity” (Merriam-Webster dictionary). The experiences in Breathwork are a means to wisdom, healing, and wholeness. A Breathwork participant described his experience as such, “I felt one with all things. I felt I was everything and nothing. This experience allowed me a deeper relationship with myself and my Higher Power, as well as a deeper capacity for compassion and love towards my fellows.”

While it feels as though we live in a culture of repression, where we are often taught to manage or repress symptoms, these expressions can often be healed if properly acknowledged and released. From a Holotropic perspective, the symptom is the beginning of healing; we encourage expression and release, rather than the repression. Whether the emotion surfacing is grief, sadness, anger, fear, joy, or if there’s a physical sensation – we encourage the person to express what’s coming up for them in whatever way they feel it needs to be expressed. In releasing some of this long-held emotional material, there’s an amazing potential for healing. Individuals in recovery experience self-empowerment by using their own breath for healing. A participant with chronic anxiety and physical pain described the following, “I felt fear and anxiety arise; those feelings I have run from since I was a child, the emotions that keep me paralyzed and physically ill. I breathed into it and allowed the feeling to get bigger, trusting my inner healer would not give me more than I could handle. I felt this incredible release of energy in my chest and stomach, where I tend to feel my anxiety the most. After that experience, I was not as afraid of the feeling, and learned to trust my body. I also found my courage. I don’t have to drink when I’m anxious. ” Another participant with an extensive abuse history stated, “I went into my Breathwork experience a victim, and I came out a survivor”.

While addiction is a disease that affects the mind, body and the spirit of an individual, it’s through work like Holotropic Breathwork™, that we can begin to address all of the suffering parts of a person, giving them the opportunity to move towards wholeness and true recovery. In addition to a solid 12-step foundation, I have found that following participation in a Holotropic Breathwork™ session recovering addicts/alcoholics report a decrease in fear of their emotional states, a more authentic connection to themselves and the 12-step process, a closer connection to others, as well as a deeper connection spiritually. Many report that the experience in Breathwork is what they were looking for all along in their use of drugs/alcohol, a sense of movement towards completion and wholeness. Holotropic Breathwork™ provides an opportunity to access the material that often serves as a barrier to the spiritual experiences necessary to enjoy lasting recovery and the satisfying life we crave. There is the potential to find true fulfillment in this sober life. My hope is that through more integrative modalities, which support the unfolding of a deeper connection to our true selves, we can begin to fully satisfy this deep thirst for wholeness both individually, and collectively.

To my fellow seekers, I wish you courage and curiosity on the journey of self-discovery. If the inner call to explore arises, I urge you to answer. Dive deeply into the inner experience; claim your right as a human being to explore the mystery of creation, and allow the wisdom of your process to unfold. You will not be disappointed.

About the Author

Christine Calvert is a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor and Certified Holotropic Breathwork™ Facilitator through Grof Transpersonal Training. She is the co-owner of Communities for Conscious Connection (CFCC Austin), an organization that offers Holotropic Breathwork™ workshops to organizations and recovery centers. She also conducts workshops regularly in the Austin area. For more information on CFCC Austin, please visit www.cfccaustin.com, or see www.holotropic.com to learn more about Holotropic Breathwork™.

Resources cited:

C., Stewart, and Bill W. Alcoholics Anonymous. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 1976., n.d. Print. Grof, Christina. The Thirst for Wholeness: Attachment, Addiction, and the Spiritual Path. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993. Print. Sparks, Tav. The Wide Open Door: The Twelve Steps, Spiritual Tradition, and the New Psychology. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1993. Print. Taylor, Kylea. The Breathwork Experience: Exploration and Healing in Nonordinary States of Consciousness. Santa Cruz, CA: Hanford Mead, 1994. Print.


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