Is addiction a disease or a healing visitation?
My wife, Deena Metzger, opens up her essay, “Illness Heals the World” this way: “Illness is a story. It calls us to healing beyond our physical selves: a strange contradiction. Suffering from an affliction invites us to step into a realm of healing that can benefit ourselves, our communities and the world. Illness is, therefore, at the very core of healing. Not a contradiction but the strange dance of creation.”
What is the greater story of the illness of addiction? What is the story that cuts deep into the world of Spirit? What is the authentic and ensouled truth of the story we are in? What is the path of healing? And what gift to the world do we bring through our healing?
In the mid-1990s I was initiated as a shaman into the tribal medicine of the Shona and Ndebele people of central Africa. Their understanding is that the ancestors call forth one’s gifts with “sacred illness.” When I arrived in Zimbabwe, it was quickly evident to these people that I had many of the symptoms of what they call water spirit disease – a vivid dream life, waking visions, mood swings, stomach problems, an excruciating and incapacitating empathy, a life rich in tragedy. From the point of view of Bantu medicine, many addicts bear the dual diagnosis of water spirit disease.
The water spirits are spirits of peacemaking and healing. The only cure for water spirit disease is to surrender to being initiated as a healer who is allied with the water spirits. As a veteran of the 12-steps, this surrender that was the heart and soul of initiation was very familiar. “Take my will and my life,” we 12-steppers intone. As a professional nurse I found this profound and refreshing: one makes peace with the spirit that afflicts and is empowered by it in the healing of others.
I’ve been graced by apprenticeship with three sacred illnesses in this life: water spirit disease, multiple sclerosis and drug addiction.
In my book The Way of Sacred Illness I wrote of being initiated by the spirit of MS: “Multiple sclerosis has drawn me as a healer into a circle of spirit healers, some I have named, others I am beginning to know. Healing and initiation is the medicine of community, the weave of many hands. MS itself is the subtlest and most deft of healers, a true and vivid spirit ally, the one who knows the intimate cellular truth, undisguised, undeniable and utterly transparent. This Guest turns a face that is not without beauty. Who am I to argue that fate delivered me here by accident, has called me towards the dance with this one so real in its intelligence, so relentless in its wisdom?” Read more…