Reiki & Recovery

“Reiki and Twelve Step Recovery”

by Donna Gaines, Ph.D., RM/T

Twelve Step recovery emerged during the 1930’s in Akron, Ohio through the efforts of two alcoholics named Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. Reiki was developed a few years earlier in Japan through the work of Dr. Mikao Usui. Despite the differences of geography and culture, the two healing traditions are highly compatible.

Both share universal spiritual values of love and service, right action, personal responsibility and spiritual generosity. In both traditions, we understand that fear and anger do not ben- efit us or the world; that kindness and gratitude uplift us, and that life is best lived one day at a time, or according to our Reiki Ideals, “Just for today.” Just as Twelve Step programs are avail- able to anyone committed to their own healing from addiction, anyone can be trained to practice Reiki, and it provides healing for all who are willing to receive it. Reiki flows well with divergent religious traditions and it compliments medical, psy- chiatric and alternative treatment modalities, as Twelve Step programs do.

Addicts come in all shapes, sizes and from all walks of life. A worldwide membership of millions now embrace the twelve steps, seeking a reprieve from addiction to everything from sex, drugs, gambling, booze and work, to food and shopping. Mem- bers represent all races, classes, religions, gender preferences and both sexes. Early in sobriety we are encouraged to practice prayer and meditation, seeking out “conscious contact” with a Higher Power. This is a lifelong process of growth and discovery. Like Reiki, the Twelve Step recovery movement is “spiritual, but not religious.”

Addiction is a four-fold disease; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Years of substance abuse can cause deterioration, severe damage to our psyches, our bodies, and our lives. Reiki energy healing takes place in four energy fields—physical, emo-tional, mental and spiritual. The very same energy fields longterm addiction destroys, Reiki energy seeks to restore. Entering into Reiki treatment, the recovering alcoholic or addict discovers a non-judgmental, non-invasive, yet powerful means of regen- eration and renewal.

We may have come into recovery physically malnourished, anemic, with liver damage, ulcers or diabetes. Emotionally, some of us may carry deep psychic wounds of early trauma; child abuse, incest, rape, abandonment, generations of family alcoholism. These wounds are deeply embedded in cellular memory and in the physical body. Because Reiki energy is so calming, it slows down the anxiety and mental disorientation of early recovery. Reiki teaches us what it means to relax and receive love.

Some of us may come into recovery with serious mental and physical health issues. Years of harsh chemical dependency may have blown out our brain chemistry, damaging nerve endings. Substances such as crack cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin can damage the auric fields, leaving us vulnerable to malefic energies.

As part of our recovery, some of us may also require ongoing psychiatric care, medication for bipolarity, depression or chemically induced psychosis. Others may have undergone treatment with medically prescribed “addiction blockers” such as Methadone or Antabuse. Reiki can be helpful in reducing unpleasant side effects, enhancing wellness and rekindling our capacity for trust.

Regardless of where we came from, Reiki energy can acceler- ate the process of cleaning up and clearing out “the wreckage of the past.” Some recovering addicts and alcoholics are also PTSD survivors—returning war veterans who self-medicate with alco- hol and drugs to quiet horrific memories. Others have been systematically broken by dysfunctional institutions—family, school or church. And each of us carry the collective wounds of social injustice and oppression; racism, homophobia and sexism. Recovery is a lifelong process, a journey of spiritual awakening. So is the path of Reiki.

In 1996 I was sleepwalking through a New Age Expo when a clear-eyed, straightforward woman in earth tones caught my eye. She offered fifteen minutes of energy healing for ten dollars. I had no idea what to expect, but I was desperate, willing to try anything. The healer began gently scanning me, “There’s no energy coming from your heart…it’s black, shut down,” she noted. “You’re carrying so much grief.” I was astonished. How could she know that? I did my best to hide my sorrows. Apparently, my fourth chakra had shut down.

By midlife, I had sealed a painful past into an airtight bag and reinvented myself. But lately, I had had trouble breathing. I gagged when I brushed my teeth. Bloated from booze, my pallor had turned a pasty gray. I had spasms in my solar plexus—irritible bowel syndrome and chronic depression, asthma and hypothyroidism, all undiagnosed and untreated. Whether I felt tired, angry, happy, lonely, sick, afraid, thrilled or amused, I drank, using Valium to kill miserable morning-after hangovers. My mood swings were so severe I thought it was menopause. I was bottoming out on alcoholism.

To the world, I presented myself as a New York Woman; dressed in black, Alpha Female, Type A personality. A successful professor, author and journalist, everything was under control. But I was only fooling myself. Alcohol was driving the narrative, not me. Inside, I was desperate, terrified, fractured and alone; Alcoholic, workaholic, cross-addicted: My drug of choice was always more.

At the end of that first session, the energy healer explained, “You’ve been hiding out in a foxhole for a long time. You’re beginning to poke your head out and look around.” She was the first to see the broken parts of me, the loss, the shame, self-pity and rage. At the end of the session she instructed me to affirm aloud, “The world is a safe place. There is love for me in the world.” I didn’t believe it, but I never forgot it. Six months later, I surrendered to Twelve Step recovery.

Like many wounded healers, my work with Reiki energy grew organically out of my own process of recovery. Early on, I noticed Reiki energy accelerated my recovery. The “sludge” of the past—lineage damage, karmic residue, emotional and phys- ical debris began to lift off. Practicing Reiki hand positions taught me how to meet my own needs. I learned the art of self- care; how to soothe myself without ingesting toxic poisons. At Level I, I practiced Reiki mostly on myself and my friends. I did it on the street, the beach, and in diners. I never used a table and rarely took money. In keeping with the Reiki ethic of exchange, I swapped Reiki for lunch, legal advice, music or scented prayer candles.

During that first year, I focused on my heart charka. I used pink quartz crystals, wore pink and green clothes and developed an odd aversion to wearing anything black. A longtime habitué of the New York punk scene, now people thought I was from California. As I continued to work with each chakra, I experimented with different crystals, scents and colors. I especially enjoyed working with amethyst. The unofficial stone of recovery, it was named by the Greeks who used it to protect themselves from overindulgence. Amethyst means “without drunkenness.”

After a while I could feel my heart open and close like a living, breathing muscle. I began responding to life. I practiced shielding techniques to protect my heart. I sought guidance from Kuan Yin, Buddha of Compassion. Gradually I started being in my body instead of living in my head.

Once I was attuned to Level II, working with the Distant Healing symbol, I started sending Reiki energy to the past. I set my intention to the healing of my lineage; two generations of daughters betrayed, sacrificed in the ritual of incest. For three months at each full moon I stood facing the ocean, sending Reiki to my maternal line—first to my great aunts, then my grand- mother and finally, to my mother. First chanting, then howling, I invoked the names of the Goddesses, Gaia, Astarte, Demeter, Tapuat, Maria, Inanna….until it was done.

So many women carry body shame, the scars of bullying, covert domination, humiliation, and a relentless hunger that leaves us feeling perpetually incomplete, empty and needing. I started working more formally with women and also with men bringing Reiki to the moment of early trauma—the loss of a beloved parent, the rupture of adoption for birth mother and child. I especially enjoyed working with young adults who had been “Indigo kids,” beautiful souls labeled learning disabled, smashed by the alienating policies of labeling and punitive schooling.

Sara had three months of sobriety when she came to me for Reiki treatment. During scanning, I felt a block in the solar plexus, as if her third chakra had hardened into a sulfuric yellow mass. Alcoholics often suffer from self-will run riot. Unresolved power and control issues can get stored in the third charka so I used the Power symbol to help break up the mass. Sara also complained of feeling spacey—this is not unusual in the early daze of new sobriety. To clear this I worked on her third eye and her crown chakras. Like most college students, Sara’s time and money were tight, so she eventually asked for homework, and we con- tinued with distant treatments for several weeks until she felt more centered.

After her first full body treatment, Sara reported feeling the energy moving over her, and emerged from the session feeling more relaxed and open. Insomnia had been a problem for weeks, but after the session, Sara slept for 12 hours. Post Reiki, Sara also experienced an acute stomach episode—an expulsion of all manner of waste. I advised her to keep drinking chamomile tea and water and to practice breathing deeply.

I had given Sara a citrine stone charged with Reiki energy, suggesting she place it on her solar plexus during breathing med itation. Like many newcomers, Sara was still struggling with her faith in a Higher Power, so I suggested practicing Twelve Step affirmations of surrender like “Let go and let God” and “Thy will, not mine, be done.” Reiki and recovery work best when they are allowed to flow naturally, without force or pressure. Another Twelve Step slogan, “Easy does it,” applies equally to both practices. Within six weeks, Sara’s eyes were clear and she had “the glow.”

I ran into Kate on the street, but there are no coincidences. She had nine years of continuous sobriety and a strong faith. But lately, life on life’s terms was beating her down. Kate’s only daughter was always exhausted, and there was something wrong with her. The doctor had taken a biopsy, and Kate was waiting for the results. She said, “I feel like a herd of elephants are stomping across my chest.” Kate was a true warrior woman, strong, fiercely devoted to her family. Fear is at the core of addiction. Any moth- er would be terrified, but Kate’s anguish over being powerless to protect her precious daughter from harm was overwhelming.

I offered an emergency treatment on a nearby park bench overlooking the East River. Kate sat facing the water, and I stood behind her, placing my hands on her heart. I asked for guidance from the Blessed Virgin and asked her to cradle Kate’s heart in her hands. I saw the sorrow of Kate’s “mother’s heart.” Kate was an incest survivor, and her mother had failed to protect her.

At the end of the session, as I began to seal her in light, Kate began sobbing. After we finished, Kate was astonished, the heaviness in her chest had lifted. She had released so much sadness, fear and shame. I often carry a small bag of charged crystals, useful for doing Reiki on the fly. I gave Kate a pink quartz stone and suggested she carry it with her to remember that she is always loved and never alone. I suggested she light a candle, a devotion to St. Mary. Kate’s daughter’s tests came back benign; it was a thyroid problem. When we love a friend and they are suffering, we feel powerless too. Being able to offer Reiki to Kate was the greatest of gifts.

Reggie had just gotten out of rehab after several brutal years of addiction to crystal meth. He was malnourished and depleted, but I was not prepared for what I found as I scanned his throat chakra. A black crow appeared. I instinctively backed away. I had no experience with any such force when I saw this smirking creature leeching on Reggie. I continued working, filling Reggie’s body, invoking the sword of St. Michael, using a flood of light to “invite” the crow to depart. I had no idea what I was doing, but Reiki always goes where it needs to, so I let it.

After the session, I discussed what I had seen with Reggie. To my astonishment, he was not surprised. In fact, he was quite familiar with the crow. During his bottom, Reggie believed he had become a host to dark parasitic energies. He described several

experiences of entities appearing, oozing, flying out of the radiator. Whether this was acute speed-fueled psychosis or an actual infes- tation of demons only God knows. Toxic chemical residues notwithstanding, Reggie attributed the crow’s presence in part, to his own arrogance and smugness. In recovery, such traits are understood as “defects of character.” With help from our Higher Power, we work to surrender them, so that we might become more useful to God. Reggie understood that the crow might stick around for a while—literally or figuratively, until he was willing to let go of the old addict ways of thinking and acting. The choice was his.

Metaphysically speaking, every person in recovery is “born again” every day. Increasingly, I experience “healing tears” in my practice. The gift of tears is a gift of empathy and compassion that connects, cleanses and renews. I feel closest to my Higher Power when I’m healing others. When I came into recovery, I was promised a life beyond my wildest dreams. Complete strangers promised to love me until I could learn to love myself. These promises were kept. Today I know the world is a safe place, and that there is love for me in it. These gifts are free, and they are for all of us. Each day, with a full a1nd grateful heart, I learn new ways to love myself, you, and God.

(c) REIKI NEWS MAGAZINE, Spring, 2009: 47;