How many times have you heard this statement: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!” Or, what about this one: “There are too many children dying, too many of our young people going to prison, too many families without fathers—we have to do something!!” Every day, people are impacted by the social issues around them: alcohol and drug abuse, family violence, gang violence, mental health problems, and physical health problems. In our Native communities these issues can seem overwhelming. Yet, if we stop and think about it for a while, we realize that these issues have a source; they are a response to a way of thinking and experiencing that exists in the mind and spirit of each person. At our recent 2014 Wellbriety Gathering, we addressed the impact of Intergenerational Trauma, the impact of the Boarding School Era, and the challenge of alcohol and drug abuse within families. Healing from intergenerational trauma is an essential focus for the Wellbriety Movement for the current generation.
We also learned is that this is not the way our people lived in times gone by. The Elders tell us of a time when families raised their children to have a sense of purpose and meaning; when communities of people cared for one another; when the warriors protected the women and the children. We found that there was a long history of sobriety and wellness within Native communities. The stories and the teachings of the Elders remind us that there is a better way to live our lives. One of those teachings is: You move toward and become what you think about. Another is: When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. So it is very important that we become aware of what we are thinking about; and that we learn ways to direct our thinking to achieve healthy outcomes.
Move from a Sick Forest To a Healthy Forest
The Wellbriety Movement provides a pathway changing the way we think and changing our consciousness about what it takes to transform the lives of individuals, families, communities and nations. The teachings of the Elders provide the wisdom that we need to have to create healthy lifeways. Over the years, the Wellbriety Movement has identified over many, many teachings that provide guidance for the development of cultural programs, processes, and other resources. These teachings have provided the foundation for our trainings, curriculum and keynote presentations. With the Wellbriety Movement the vision is to move from a sick forest to a healthy forest. The consciousness needs to change from anger, fear, guilt and shame, to hope, unity, healing, and forgiving the unforgivable (the four gifts of the Sacred Hoop).
Wellbriety Movement: a Social Movement Social movements are about change. Consider the changes brought about in our society as the result of these major social movements: The Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Movement, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the American Indian Movement. The men and women who banded together in these movements designed them to empower people, provide social justice, or prevent unnecessary injury and death, and to give those who were unheard, a voice to change the status quo.
Social movements have four characteristics: (1) people become energized for change; (2) they engage other people to work with them; (3) they identify a vision of what could be; (4) they generate a voice that empowers those who have been silent to speak. The Wellbriety Movement uses a powerful teaching that helps to transform individuals, families, communities and nations: The Four Laws of Change. These Four Laws were identified by the Elders as the natural pathway for making significant change. The First Law says that all meaningful and lasting change comes from within. This means that individuals, families,communities and nations must make the decision to change. Change cannot be imposed by external sources. Gandhi said: You must be the change you wish to see.
Of course temporary change is imposed by governments and regulations all the time. But until the change comes from the will of the people, there will be no meaningful or lasting change. The Second Law explains that without a vision, there is no development; nothing will happen. The people must create a vision of what can be; of what the preferred lifeways are.
The Wellbriety Movement recommends the development of a vision of sober living and wellness. What does this look like for the individual, the family, the community, the nation? Each one must create that vision. The vision includes the answers to three questions: Who am I (are we)? Why am I (are we)? And Where am I going (are we going)? Through this visioning process people will identify what is significant, what is valued, and what is desired.
Once that vision is created, it sets up a cascade of opportunities, that if noticed can bring about the vision. However, before that can happen, the Third Law must be enacted: A great learning must take place. People will need to learn things at many different levels: emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Doing this work together enables families, communities and nations to learn how to work together and how to coordinate the resources to make things happen. People who participate in the process, learn new ways of thinking, develop new skills, uncover new knowledge and draw upon capabilities they didn’t know they had. Working toward the vision will bring about many lessons that need to be learned and incorporated.
Finally, the vision of the change will not “take root” and will not be sustainable unless the Fourth Law is implemented: You must create a healing forest. A healing forest is an environment where the change, the vision and the health of the people are supported an nourished. The healthy forest is supported by hope, unity, healing, and forgiving the unforgivable. It is nourished by the culture, and the realization that all things are interconnected. To make change occur at the physical (seen) level, it must also occur at the spiritual (unseen) level.
Also by working together, people develop supportive networks, continuous training, share their thoughts and concerns in talking circles, and find ways to apply traditional principles and values to support and maintain the vision. This creates the healing forest. All of this takes significant effort to sustain; and it is not possible without the help of the Creator. Traditional spiritual practices, including prayer and ceremonies are needed to overcome many of the obstacles and to create pathways where there were none. In addition, to launch, support and nurture the changes in communities, the Wellbriety Movement brings the Sacred Hoop to communities around the Nation. There have been numerous Sacred Hoop Journeys since 2000, crisscrossing the United States (including Alaska). As the spiritual symbol of the Wellbriey Movement, the Sacred Hoop brings the message of hope, unity, healing and forgiving the unforgivable.
Many training resources are available through the Wellbriety Movement to support the great learning, change of consciousness, and the development of the healing forest: (1) for individuals: Mending Broken Hearts, Medicine Wheel and 12 Steps; (2) for youth and families: Women–Mothers of Tradition, Daughters of Tradition; Men— Fathers of Tradition, Sons of Tradition, and the National Association for Children of Alcoholics program, Celebrating Families; (3) for communities and nations: Red Road to Wellbriety Starter Kit; Warrior Down, Community Readiness Assessment (developed by the Tri-Ethnic Center).