How a Shaman Helped Me Deal With My Deepest Insecurities and Severe Addiction
The following article first appeared in The Fix. Also on TheFix.com: Brain Restoration: Too Good to be True for Addiction and Disease?; Howard Dean and the Politics of Recovery ; Tap Tap Tap: A Path to Healing and Recovery.
Lidia leans over me and shakes her rattle, asking me to breathe in deep to the child I was. I feel the heavy stone as it sits on my belly, the scent of copal and green tea heavy in the room. I have done a lot of things to get sober, but in many ways, this hour with Lidia has kept me there.
When I was barely a year sober, I had gotten a traffic ticket, had my wallet stolen, and was dumped by a guy all in the space of one week. My boss found me crying in my office one night, and offered to introduce me to someone. At first, I thought she meant a potential love interest, but she meant Lidia, her therapist. As I quickly found out, Lidia was not only a licensed counselor, but also a Curandera, trained in the Shamanic energy work of the Peruvian and Huichol native peoples.
The work that began that day in Chatsworth has carried me through my sobriety, and at the same time is deeply connected to it. Because what Lidia has taught me is that our souls are hardwired to our mental impulses. The belief systems which have been handed down from my Hungarian, Italian and Irish ancestors still live in my actions today and the lies that my forebears told themselves, and their children, in order to survive often echo in my own behaviors. And like the DNA that spirals through my chromosomal identity, those stories create the spine of my resentments, my fears, and how I have learned to love.On my first trip, she had me talk about where I was at in life—describing the frustration of my work life, my love life, and the childhood that had been so key in shaping the choices that led to both. Despite her loose white linen garments, and the hippie decorum of her home (nestled in the middle of suburban Chatsworth), it could have been any therapy session anywhere. But then she pulled down the shades, turned off the lights, pulled out her circle of sacred stones, and we began dipping into the shades of consciousness that pool around that desire to drink something or take something in order feel better.
On that first day with Lidia when she had me choose a stone and then laid it on my body before pulling out a rattle and helping me channel the energy passed down by generations and solidified by my own beliefs and perspectives, I saw what I had yet to find anywhere else: the neurosis that lies beneath the addiction. And together Lidia and I began to heal it.
At one time, I saw Lidia every month, but today, I only see her three to four times a year. The reason is simple, I have gotten better. But life still comes up. Through my time with Lidia, I left a job I did not love for one I did, I wrote and published my first book, I created a career as a writer, I fell in love and got married, I moved to Paris for a Masters degree, and came home to Los Angeles to new and exciting adventures in my career and in life. Now, as I prepare to embark on the next phase – getting pregnant and starting a family – I turn to Lidia again. We discuss my need for control as I have been trying to time my pregnancy with a Chinese gender predictor chart and the most desired astrological signs. That would be a control issue, I believe.
Lidia again challenges me to find why this need for control still pervades my life. She explains to me what I had yet to realize myself, “It sounds like an addictive behavior. You’re compulsively trying to plan for life when you know that life doesn’t work that way.” Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Yes, I know that tune.
It doesn’t take me long to trace back this addiction. When I was growing up, my father was imprisoned for marijuana smuggling. Nearly every year, he would give me a date for his release – June 4, 1988, November 10, 1990, August 30, 1996. I know these dates like the back of my hand. I would plan for them, dream about them, illustrate them in perfect detail. The day my father would be free, the day my daddy would come home.
But then that date would pass, and my father would remain incarcerated, as he had been since I was four. The habit is old. If there is something I want, I will immediately feel the need to design its acquisition. I will formulate dates, I will plan big events, I will want to control what was never, ever in my control in the first place. And l do this all with the mind of an addict: obsessively, compulsively, unable to stop even when I know it’s not good for me, let alone those around me (just ask my husband).
Lidia has me get on the floor and choose a stone. It isn’t as strange as it used to be. The process is now comforting, like settling in before a massage. I choose a strangely molded one that looks like a purplish brain. Lidia places it on my belly and we begin to channel the energy that can either hold back or inspire my deepest potential. I begin to talk, but its not really a deliberate dialogue, it’s born from that liquid consciousness – the one that speaks in scents and colors and not in language or reason. And in that stream of thought, I recognize the games I play with finance, with my relationship, in my career. My unending need to plan vacations and track dates and calculate numbers and premeditate fantasies and goals and babies in ways that are not necessarily healthy.
The time passes quickly. The tears have come and gone and I am breathing deeply on Lidia’s floor when suddenly I feel a ripple of energy run up along the left side of my shoulder and around my neck. It’s a strange experience, one I have never had before while meditating. Lidia shakes the final spell of her rattle, and closes the ceremony. I open my eyes to see her sitting above me, looking down.
“The weirdest thing just happened,” she tells me. “As you were laying there at the end, I saw this image of a swan wrap itself around your neck. It was so clear, I could see it move up your shoulder and then your two necks intertwined.” She laughs, “I wondered what it was going to do with its little webbed claws.”
I gasp. This is why I come here. This is why I continue to come here. Because beneath the addiction, beneath the twelve steps, beneath the recovery and the sobriety, is the magic of being alive. And Lidia and I dance together in that. I tell her how I felt the same thing, and I realize what the feeling was, “It was feathers. I could feel feathers moving alongside my body.” Fuck yeah, magic.
After we get up, and close with a final prayer, turning the room back into one that could double as any therapist’s office anywhere, she pulls out a book on medicine animals. In it, we read about the swan, “Swan… The power of woman entering Sacred Space, touching future, yet to come, bringing eternal grace.”