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):
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, integralnaked.org, 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.