Depression: My Disease

While most of my work and writing in the last few years has focused on chemical dependency and addiction, my personal struggle and life-threatening illness has been depression. When I say depression, I am not talking about a case of the blues or being bummed out for a bit, but mind-crushing, soul-crushing hell. A pit so deep, a place so dark, that death beckons like a lover and the promise of non-existence offers a final hope. My struggle for life went on for a decade. During this time, hope was lost and I felt useless to myself, God, and others. Though my deepest prayer and desire was to find a path of service, the end was approaching and I had no strength left to hold on.

Why didn't I end my life when it seemed the reasonable, the honorable, the only sane thing left to do?  The answer was clear. My beloved older brother had preceded me by committing suicide in the living room of my home. The only certainty I had was that I would not, could not ,do that to my family-not another son a suicide. God, please kill me, because I cannot. He didn't and I am still here.

Looking back, it seems my first experience in the darkness happened in the early 90's while I was living in the San Francisco Bay area. It felt like spiritual despair and physical exhaustion. In this fog I was given a gift. I found I was a writer of songs. So, I sang and I wrote and I played my guitar and it seemed that the gift of music kept many of my devils at bay... for awhile. Fast forward to Southern Utah 8 years later. After moving to Utah and immersing myself in the wilderness and the therapeutic wilderness industry, the bottom fell out of my life. I will spare you the gory details but let me enumerate the specific blows and stressors (this happened all within a couple of weeks):

  • My dog was run over by a car.
  • My brother killed himself in my living room.
  • I lost my job.
  • I lost my relationship through infidelity and betrayal with a trusted friend.
  • I lost my home.

To use Integral speak, I was fucked in all four quadrants. I left and began to roam-Texas, California, Tennessee. The pain and shock were completely overwhelming. All the therapeutic techniques I knew seemed pitiful and inadequate, like trying to stop a tidal wave with an umbrella. So, I wandered and yondered, and found no respite. I wore sunglasses all the time so that people would not have to see my eyes, which appeared blank and vacuous to me, like open graves. I remember going to gyms a lot, trying to work out my pain and suffering by intensely moving iron. I think it kept me anchored in my body and the world and probably saved my life, or at least kept me alive-barely. The exact chronology of these year is unclear to me; I have dark and murky flashes of memory but no clear timeline. Eventually, I wound up at my parents' home in Texas. As they say, home is where if you show up, they cannot and will not turn you away. I was a wreck.

A pattern to the depression began to emerge: I could function in the mornings, but sometime in the afternoon the darkness would fall, lifting again only after dusk. A darkness so grim and complete that all I could do was Iie in my room with drawn shades until it passed. The darkness seemed to last a thousand years; time was warped and slowed down. I could not read, I could not pray, I could not listen to music. I simply suffered in Hell. To contemplate even getting up to go to the bathroom or getting a drink of water felt like the energetic equivalent of climbing Everest.

I had a few hours of respite in the evening and morning hours and then I'd go through it all again. I remember the terror and the dread of watching the clock and awaiting the torments of the damned. Slowly a plan began to unfold. I would work on myself to try and heal myself in the good hours that were afforded me. I lifted weights, went to early morning aerobic classes, took vitamins and supplements, entered therapy, practiced Chi Gong-all in the morning before the crash. I began to resurrect a little. I got a part in a musical where I played the Elvis character in a hometown production of "Bye Bye Birdie." It gave me fellowship, purpose, and some creative direction. This helped and the crashes diminished somewhat.

Looking back, I suppose it was my first attempt to devise a sort of Integral Practice, one born out of desperation, which certainly seems to be, in my case, "the mother of invention." The problem was that I had no guiding model of healing, so I devised a tourniquet to staunch the flow of my life blood and headed back into the fray. But I didn't keep up the practices that seemed to be helping, and for the most part abandoned them when I felt a little relief, throwing myself back into my life and work in a grim, fatalistic attempt to be of service while I still had a little strength left.

This became a pattern: during those periods when the darkness lifted, I would throw myself back into the fight to be of service and do something I considered noble, or meaningful, with "the last full measure of my devotion," as if the hounds of hell were on my trail and there was not much time until they caught up with me. At the time, this meant wilderness therapy, as being a guide seemed to be the only thing that I was any good at and it met my inner standards for being of enough value to my people to keep me going and away from the valley of the shadow of death and despair.  The problem was that I kept exhausting myself and the days of darkness would begin again.

And so it went. I had periods in which I was okay, followed by periods where I would start the cycle of afternoon descents into the nether regions. I tried medications for awhile and was told that I would have to be on them for the rest of my life. The drugs left me feeling, well, drugged, and I couldn't maintain steady employment because of the long periods of being incapacitated by the ever-returning spells. It was hard to keep paying for the medications or to keep paying health insurance, and I didn't have the energy or inclination to file for some sort of government disability support.

Somewhere during this on again, down again, in Hell again, seesaw dance, I discovered William Styron's profound little book, A Darkness Made Visible, in which Styron describes very accurately what I was going through and what had happened to my brother. Just finding this book brought a great relief of sorts-somebody else besides me and Rick had been through this. There is a picture of Styron in the book in which he has the same fallen face and empty, dull, thousand-yard-stare eyes that I saw in the mirror when I looked at myself during my descents. Just knowing that I was not alone was comforting, as one of the most horrible things about these periods was the feeling of utter isolation from others, God, everything.

Into this Manichean up and down struggle for my life and purpose, entered Ken Wilber,, the AQALTM map, and Integral Life Practice. I have written extensively about this elsewhere so there is no need to tell the whole story again, but from the spiritual/Integral awakening that occurred at this point, I developed the Integral RecoveryTM model-or, more often than not it feels like I channeled it-with its application of the AQALTM map to the disease of addiction and Integral Recovery Practice as the vehicle of healing transformation and awakening for the addict. (By the way, in more cases than not, addiction begins with some variation on the disease of depression: the addict starts out trying to self-medicate her way out of depression by using drugs and alcohol, looking for blissful, temporary relief.)

In my innocence and Integral fervor, I did what Ken said to do, exercising the body, mind, heart, and soul. I also had the intuition that I was onto something very important and that my work and healing were not just for me, but that I was beginning to help cut that Kosmic groove (as happens to all of us are who have traversed the landscape of this unfolding, rollicking, Integral R-evolution) that would help many some day, especially my beloved addicts with whom I had been working for so many years both in and out of the wilderness.

At some point early on in my Integral journey, I listened to three audio files with Ken Wilber and Bill Harris talking about something called HolosyncTM and binaural brain entrainment.  My first thought was, "This sounds too good to be true, but what if it works only half as well as he says it does?" Then it would still be, could be, very important. I hemmed and hawed around for a bit, reading the papers, looking at the posts on the internet to see what people were saying, and finally laid my money down and ordered the first level.  The rest, as they say, is history. Within the first week of my using HolosyncTM, I experienced a class five spiritual awakening: body/mind dropped, "badabing!", I was awake! Koans now made sense, I was cruising on non-dual, and I was simply this little johnness floating in a vast sea of luminescent consciousness that was my original face and that was my truest and vastly deepest self.

My first thought was, "Thank God, but this is ridiculous! Can it be this easy?" After that initial explosion of context and awareness, I spent the next nine months plunging into and releasing layer after layer of pain, shadow and trauma. And I found that I could stick with the process and the sometimes very scary nature of the encounter with my shadow elements, because of the vast and hugely expanded awareness that had come online for me in that first week of using HolosyncTM, and a new kind of inner wisdom that let me know that this was just what needed to happen, and that I was healing and  progressively becoming free. I also felt that what I was learning was important and would allow me to take others through this process in the future.

It has been four years now and the darkness has receded. I have had a few brief spells, but now I simply sit with it, and it burns off quickly under the transmutational fire and warmth of pure awareness. I am 53 now, and every day seems to be a miracle of Grace, flow, and endless possibility for depth, service, and growth for little john on the wave of God he is part and parcel of. The wind is in my face and tears are in my eyes as I ride the surfboard of my life, racing towards the shore where we all become one again and fade into the Light.


Extremely moving - thank you

Extremely moving - thank you

This post gives me HOPE.

This post gives me HOPE. Thank you John.

Wow.... what a gift to be

Wow.... what a gift to be able to so clearly articulate what others of us have also felt and lived through in one way or the other...

Thanks for making the depression / addiction or addictive process connection.

Ken Wilber and the ongoingly-emerging Integral model - especially in the Spiritual aspect - are also offering me hope and direction...
Peace, brother

Thank you John for the gift

Thank you John for the gift of your story. My depression has never been as deep and debilitating, but my resultant addiction to alcohol has never been explained in this way and the truth of that reminds me to never stop working a plan of recovery which for me includes Holosync daily. I am free from the medications for the last 6 months and not living in fear that I will have to go back. May you continue in your service to others in such a beautiful and meaningful way. Thank you.

Touching. I realte to it

Touching. I realte to it much. Even now as i write this i am at a point of praying for it to end. Fear not however cause the next mood is right around the corner. Months and years of self work, meditaion, visiting saints, followed but months of addiction, depression and self hate. 34 years and going stong...

Thanks for this - i will go

Thanks for this - i will go back and retry the holosync now that my new medication has created a space for me to follow through on things - prior to this i was living in a depressive version of groundhog day however without the potential for growth.

John, you are really blazing

John, you are really blazing an important trail and helping a lot of people. As you may know, here at Centerpointe we hear from people who suffer from depression quite often, and many (lots) tell us that Holosync had a quite dramatic effect on their depression. Many, in fact, tell us that after 10-12 months they no longer need medication (and, no longer self-medicate with alcohol and illegal drugs). I appreciate your spreading the word about Holosync, and I'm sure that those who use it on your recommendation do, too. Keep up the great work.

I forgot to add that we do

I forgot to add that we do not suggest that anyone ever stop taking a prescribed medication for depression (or anxiety, or any other mental health problem helped by Holosync) unless their medical professional agrees that they no longer need it.

Hi! I want to thank you


I want to thank you for this internet posting. I went through a huge depression last spring, a tail end of years of anxiety-depression in which I was unaware of. I identified myself with the depression so much that I did not see myself.

Last spring (2010), I went for help for depression because I finally realized what I was facing. I tried medication. It was not healing for me. Instead it sent me on an anxious frenzie. I felt lost and desperately sought internet help... searching for anything.

I came across your blog and I was touched by your story. When I came across your mention of Ken Wilber I felt a spark. Ken Wilber is one of my favorite transpersonal authors and I am a transpersonalist.... working toward my Bachelors so I can attend the Institute of Transpersonal Studies Psychology Masters course. This mention sparked me to pay attention.

You then mentioned Holosync and how it has helped you. Since I was on a search, and knew for certain medication would not help me, I looked it up. I asked for a demo, was interested, and started with the Awakening prologue. I am now on my Awakening level 1.

I have noticed a change within me to a point that I am aware of why I feel the way I do. Sometimes it takes a while for my awareness to kick in, the good ol' hind sight trick, but many times in the moment that I am triggered by negativity I can say to myself, "something is up, what is it?" or "this needs attention, remember this and I will work on it later". Holosync is giving me the space to use all of the great tools I am learning in my transformational life coaching and in my studies.

Oh... my depression???? I got to the bottom of that too. I use depression as a coping mechanism. My mom had it and so did others around me growing up. I learned when something is too much, good or bad, depression will help carry me through it. I understand now that I myself am not depression, depression is a part of me. I now can see other options to cope. These options came from life coaching and also some therapy I attended.

I am not trying to minimize depression because it is a very heavy energy and many people I know and love are still with depression. I am writing here to thank you for introducing me to a method that helped me, along with really looking at my Self, realize what depression was serving, or not serving for me. I spent most of my life depressed and the depression was trying to help me the whole time, I just did not understand that. Now that I do, when depression visits I now recognize it as a friend and allow it to exist, not as the whole me, but as a part of me, and it doesn't run my life any longer. Your blog helped me tremendously. Thank you.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.