Native American drug rehab

How can drug and alcohol rehab be customized to include traditional Native American practices and values? Staff from Icimani Ya Waste on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota share ideas about integrating tradition and values in recovery from addiction.

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How can you integrate your ancestors’ traditions and values in addiction recovery? Here, staff from Icimani Ya Waste recovery center share experience, strength, and hope on the path to Lakota spirituality. Read on for more on core values that can help during drug rehab as well as traditional practices that can enhance your recovery here.

Recovery requires a vision

Addiction is as detrimental to our emotional and spiritual health as it is physically damaging. Our Ancestors didn’t just talk about spirituality, they lived it. Religion didn’t exist and spirituality influenced any and all decisions. They acknowledged the Creator at any given opportunity. They truly understood that what happens to one part of the world happens to the rest of the world.

When a person, traditional or otherwise, enters into treatment, they must be willing to change. They must visualize something better for themselves or they will fall back into the same destructive cycle of abuse. Here are some suggestions for making the journey back to spirituality in recovery from addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Principles to take with you to drug rehab

  1. There has to be a sense of balance and righteousness in the world.
  2. There has to be a belief in not just any higher power but, the belief of a Creator who is above all of creation who has created everything visible and non-visible.
  3. There needs to be a sense of self-worth. The person in treatment has to know that the Creator has put them together with the strength needed to defeat any obstacle. With the Creator’s help, anything can be achieved.
  4. A healthier lifestyle has to be both explained and modeled. Who will listen to a Counselor who is a practicing alcoholic or speaks of defeating an addiction while chain-smoking? What goes into your body, good or bad, will resurface. You are what you eat, what you drink, what you smoke and what you think.
  5. We need to learn to forgive ourselves. What happened in the past is nowhere near as important as what you are going to do with the rest of your lives.
  6. We need to forgive others. Your internal hurt and anger against others is only eating away at you from inside. Learn to let it go. Those who hurt you don’t care whether you are carrying the weight or not.
  7. We need to love and respect our health and lives. It isn’t our decision to take or throw either away. It is both an honor and spiritual gift to walk on Mother Earth. When we are given the immense responsibility of a child, our lives no longer belong to us.
  8. The health of our community is more important than any selfish simple pleasure.
  9. You have the ability to heal from any trauma, hurt and disease and move forward with your lives. The only one who can limit or oppress you is yourself.

Lakota traditions that enhance recovery

1. Sweat lodge

On a traditional note, the Lakota were given a sweat lodge ceremony where spiritual weight could be lifted. The sweat also promoted focus on one’s family, community and life by praying through distractions such as intense heat, claustrophobia, darkness and physical pain. Patience, respect and the elimination of self-doubt are beautiful by-products of this sacred prayer time with our Ancestors. Focusing through the distractions in the sweat is good practice for the rest of the year when we need to focus on the things that really matter in life.

2. Winter encouragement

During winter, when the sun is in the southern hemisphere, its vitamin D promoting capability is lessened here in Lakota Country. Among many other attributes, vitamin D promotes a feeling of well-being. Vitamin D helps the brain to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter critical to emotional health. A vitamin D deficiency can contribute to depression and a negative outlook. An increase of vitamin D promotes a positive outlook and elevates mood. Our Lakota Ancestors understood that they had to help each other in the winter by encouragement and holding more ceremonies. Vitamin supplement, healthy eating, spiritual guidance and increased interaction along with routine “sweats” during the winter months will help to alleviate the effects of a vitamin D deficiency, depression and addiction.

3.  Integrating multiple resources

Many who are in recovery and living on the reservation utilize Traditional practices, 12-step models, Church, Drug and Alcohol treatment education, and their own spirituality (higher power), to fulfill their need of inner peace by taking one or more parts of each of these different resources and applying it to their own personal way of healthy living and achieving that sense of well-being.

Icimani Ya Waste Recovery Center is one of two recovery centers offered by the St. Francis Mission.  We offer 12 step meetings and a Family Recovery Program in conjunction with Betty Ford.  St. Francis Mission is a ministry of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) among the 20,000 Lakota (Sioux) people on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in south-central South Dakota. It is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1886.  To learn more about the Mission and its American Indian drug recovery programs, visit their website, or contact us below.



About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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