Where the Rubber Meets the Road

This blog entry is an excerpt from the rough draft of the book “Integral Recovery” that I am currently writing. I thought this might be of interest to readers to get a taste of what Integral Recovery treatment looks like in practice. But first an introductory quote....

"This week was planes, buses and rental cars. I flew into Salt Lake City and drove four hours to the heart of nowhere to learn first hand what is happening in the world's first Integral addiction recovery program. The results are impressive, the inaugural class has been practicng an ILP for about a month and have been absolutely transformed by the experience. I know one of the participants very well, as this program was setup by me and John Dupuy for my brother, who is an alcoholic, and we were fortunate enough to have other participants from around the country join the program once we established it.... It should be really groundbreaking for the industry, which has suffered with an outdated, amber-meme 12 step program since the 1930s. Most moderns and postmoderns just can't handle the downward self-regression required of that approach, which may account for why AA only has a 10% success rate." - Robb Smith, CEO of Integral Life

The Program So now that we’ve looked at and discussed at some length the various individual components that make up Integral Recovery, let’s see how the rubber meets the road, or in our case what an Integral treatment program can look like on a day-to-day basis. I will talk about the model that I have used thus far, being clear that this model can change and will change as our experience and knowledge deepen. The current model, however, has proven to be very powerful on an intense short-term basis. What I will describe here is the work that we did based out of my home in Wayne County, Utah, during a 28-day Integral Recovery intensive in April, 2007. The first thing that was important to establish and convey as the students arrived was a feeling of welcome and warmth that acknowledged their deep suffering, letting them know that things were going to get better, not without effort but quickly. I think it is very important that the leaders and guides transmit and exhibit the faith, good cheer, and hope that the newly recovering do not have for themselves in the beginning. The first week, I think it is very important for students or clients to begin to feel better as quickly as possible. It is important for them to know that being sober and healthy feels better than being drugged, exhausted, and diseased. We started the students on a complete regimen of nutritional supplements in the car on the way from the airport. We also gave a brief explanation of binaural brain entrainment and Holosync meditation, and allowed them to listen to the CD on the drive from the airport. This seemed to be well received and appreciated, as fear is usually one of the predominant emotions that accompanies coming to treatment. Upon arriving at the house, they were introduced to everyone associated with the program, and were shown their rooms and given free time until dinner. Day One The next day we started our intensive for real. We began the day with around 25 minutes of gentle yoga. We then engaged in 48 minutes, or two tracks, of Insight Meditation. The students were allowed to sit on couches, chairs, or traditional meditation cushions as they chose. After meditation everyone was given a few minutes to journal their experience and then share with the group. These sharing times after meditation were our group therapy sessions. After journaling and sharing, we ate breakfast, took our supplements, and began our morning cognitive work. By "cognitive" I mean the intellectual teaching part of the Integral Recovery intensive. On the first morning I had everyone listen to and take notes on a CD of Dr. Kevin McCauley speaking about the neuro-biological basis of addiction. This proved to be very powerful for the students, with the recognition that “I have a disease—I’m not bad. There is a scientific basis for what I have suffered.” Two weeks into the program I had them listen to this CD again and we further discussed McCauley perspective and its implications for our program. After the morning’s “classwork” we would eat lunch and have up to an hour of free time to journal, nap, take a walk, or relax. After free time we headed to the gym and began a vigorous program of weight-training and exercise. After the work-out we returned to the house and had more free time. I felt it was very important not only to have structure and rigorous practice, but to give people plenty of time for sleep, rest, and relaxation. Leaving a prolonged career of using and abusing drugs is very stressful on the body, mind, and emotions, and it takes rest as well as practice to return to health. After free time we would meditate for another hour using Holosync, following which we would journal and discuss what was arising from our meditation. This would often include trauma from the past, good memories, and spiritual and emotional insights. Following this, we would prepare and eat a healthy dinner and sometimes watch a movie together, hang out in the living room or in our individual rooms, and read, write, or listen to music. If the participants had negative feelings or emotions arising they were encouraged to do extra meditation on their own. And of course I was always available to help them process whatever was arising if they needed assistance. Then it was early to bed for at least nine hours of sleep and we would begin our practices at 6:00 a.m. the next morning. During the first week everyone received bodywork and went to the local chiropractor to be adjusted. The bodywork continued on a weekly basis and the chiropractic adjustments as needed. They also met once or twice weekly with a therapist for individual work, and with another therapist for EMDR treatment if needed to help with the release of traumatic, repressed material. On the weekends the schedule was pretty much the same. Except on Saturday afternoons we would load up in a 4-wheel drive vehicle and head to the wilderness. It is said that there are no atheists in foxholes. I have found the same results come from extended exposure to the glory of the Southern Utah wilderness. In the wilderness we would often conduct groups and the students would be encouraged to find a spot that felt sacred or right to them and do their evening meditation.

waynecounty.jpg Beautiful Wayne County, UT On Sundays, we meditated with a group that my wife and I have hosted for nearly ten years. Our students would participate in this group, which they enjoyed and which enabled them to feel a part of a larger community. This was the basic pattern of our lives for 28 days. The progress of the students was rapid and the sense of bondedness in the group grew quickly and was a strong and safe context and container for the work we were doing. Both for my assistant, Marco Morelli, and myself, who were not addicts, the experience and intensity of the practice proved healing and transformational as well. During our class work in the morning I taught on addiction and the AQAL model itself. By our third week I had the students teaching the different aspects of the AQAL map. The idea was that by the time our students left they would have learned the AQAL model so well that it would become an internalized Integral operating system (IOS) that they could use to illuminate their continuing journey of recovery and healing. During the entire course the students were given reading and written assignments on the topics of addiction, spirituality, emotional growth, and Ken Wilber’s work. They also worked on the Integral Twelve Steps. For leisure, they had access to my personal library which consists of many volumes – both fiction and non-fiction. (One student went through my entire Bernard Cornwell collection of historical fiction novels during the intensive.) The fourth and last week we continued our practices and in some cases worked with family members who came to participate. Over the course of an addictive career, there is always great hurt and damage done to relations. An essential part of Integral Recovery is working with the families. Throughout the duration of the program I would speak to family members on the phone at least once a week and more if necessary. I also had them begin, where possible, their own binaural meditative practice, and supplied them with materials to help them better understand the disease of addiction and this AQAL’ly inspired model of treatment. Part of the time, the families were with us—they ate with us, and meditated with us and participated in our class work—while at other times, students were given the opportunity to spend alone time with their families enjoying the beauty of Wayne County. We also did intense family therapy which in large part consisted of an exercise I call the four “R’s.” The four R’s consist of regrets, resentments, respects and requests. All the family members were instructed a few days before the event to make a list of all four categories as they pertained to the student, and the student to his individual family members. In the regrets column, each family member would write things that they had done to the relationship, which they regretted. In the resentment column they would write things that the other person had done to the relationship, which they resented. In the respects column they would write things they respected about their family member. In the requests column they would make requests (not demands) for things they desired for the future of their relationship. To do this work we rented a beautiful cabin near my home that was both isolated and had great views of the surrounding countryside. The actual practice was to have the two family members face each other sitting in chairs, sitting up straight. The first family member would read from his list while maintaining eye contact and say, “I regret when I….” After the first family member had finished with the first regret, the family member who was listening would repeat, while maintaining eye contact, “I heard you say that you regret when you…” The family members were instructed not to interpret, but to repeat back as exactly as possible what their family member had told them. I would coach or correct as needed during this process, and after both family members had finished with their lists they were given the opportunity to speak about the experience and share any feelings that the experience had brought up. The rest of the family members and myself who served as observers would then share any feedback or impressions that we had of the experience. This is a very simple but powerful form of family therapy and often clears the air of issues, both positive and negative, that have been left unsaid and unexpressed for years. This often-cathartic experience provides a space within which the families can make a new beginning. Other work during the last week includes written, detailed after-care planning by the students, which they would work with me to write and get right. These were then, after my approval, presented to the group for further discussion and comment. Before starting the retreat I was very concerned with the nutritional and cooking aspect of the program as it is well known that nutritional therapy and healthy eating is foundational to sustained and optimal recovery. I understand this theoretically, but I am nowhere near the best cook on the planet. However, through an act of grace, one of our students was and is. This was simply a godsend and the quality of the food was the best I’ve ever had over a four-week period. I believe it also set a very high standard for future Integral treatment (god bless you, Colin!). To be continued....

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